Vertical farming can boost UK food security as global supply chains struggle | Comment and opinion

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We are in a global food crisis. Food security is under increasing pressure as the interdependencies of the globalized supply chain unravel. From the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the ongoing climate crisis, the impact is being felt across Europe and stretching across the globe. Add to this the cross-border challenges of Brexit, recent lorry driver strikes in Spain, unavailability of labor and supply chain disruptions, and it is clear the food industry is facing major challenges with no immediate solution in sight.

We have clearly become too dependent on limited resources to feed the world. Russia and Ukraine together produce more than 95 million tonnes of wheat each year, or 23% of world wheat exports. [US Department of Agriculture]. However, following the Russian invasion, European wheat prices have risen to their highest level in 10 years as export concerns rise. Even if the war were to end soon, this year’s planting season was almost certainly missed, which increased uncertainty for next year’s supply chain.

Additionally, there is our dependence in the UK on other European countries for products such as leafy salads and herbs. Just before Christmas, major disruptions occurred in festive fresh produce due to severe storms and flooding in Italy. More recently, strikes by lorry drivers in Spain have held the UK market for imported fruit and vegetables hostage.

The countries we once depended on for seasonal and year-round produce are becoming increasingly difficult and unsustainable for UK supermarkets to partner with, whether it’s export issues or environmental unpredictability. There is now a critical need to find new, resilient ways to feed our nation.

Vertical farming can be part of this solution. In fact, for leafy salads and other key products, it offers real promise for the whole of the UK population. The process is capable of producing yields 250 times greater than those of traditional agriculture, providing quality products throughout the year in a sustainable way and in an environment unaffected by weather conditions and the availability of water. – providing a key flexible resource to establish post-Brexit food security in Britain.

Beyond the UK, this infrastructure can be established in almost any country in the world, regardless of climate and soil quality. This offers a significant opportunity for economically disadvantaged and water-scarce regions to transform their food supply chains and revolutionize their economies, ultimately moving from net food importers to full self-reliance.

Currently, vertical farming technology is used to produce fresh produce such as salads and leafy greens, grown year-round in a stacked, biosecure, air-conditioned environment. However, this technology will soon be used to grow soft fruits, and we believe that over the next decade vertical farming will have developed the ability to grow calorific staples such as rice and wheat, and protein staples such as peas and soybeans, in any location around the world – all at prices that compare favorably to world commodity prices.

Vertical farming uses less than 5% of the water needed in traditional farming, requires no pesticides, herbicides or insecticides and can use 100% renewable energy. Delivered products are of the highest quality, staying fresh longer, helping retailers and consumers significantly reduce food waste.

Our sector relies heavily on the sustainable energy industry to provide the grids needed to power large-scale vertical farms. As additional investments are made in local renewable energy, this will provide the opportunity for vertical farming to grow significantly and make a significant contribution to “feeding the world”.

As an example, our journey at Fischer Farms shows how scalable this technology can be. We started operations in a shipping container in 2017, moved to a 3,200m² facility in 2019 and are currently completing the largest vertical farm in the world, which will provide 25,000m² of growing space – capable of producing 72,000 bags of salad per day.

As the renewable energy sector continues to grow and investors take interest in the opportunity that vertical farming presents, we believe this technology has real potential to transform the global food supply chain, strengthen local economies and deal with the worsening global food crisis. . Vertical farming can be used to provide these solutions at scale and in the poorest regions of the world, which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and disruption of the global supply chain. And we can achieve all of this without trashing the planet in the process.

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