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Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture? | Stuart Oda


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz So if you live on planet Earth and you’re one of seven billion people
that eats food every day, I need you to pay attention, because over the next three decades, we will need to address one of the most critical
global challenges of our generation. And I’m not talking about climate change. I’m talking about food and agriculture. In 2050, our global population
is projected to reach 9.8 billion, with 68 percent of us
living in urban city centers. In order to feed this massive population, we will need to increase
our agricultural output by 70 percent over current levels. Just to put this number into perspective, we will need to grow more food
in the next 35 to 40 years than the previous 10,000 years combined. Put simply, not only is our global
population becoming bigger, but it’s also getting denser, and we will need to grow
significantly more food using significantly less
land and resources. Complicating our current efforts
to address these major demographic shifts are the challenges facing
the agricultural industry today. Globally, one third of all the food
that we produce is wasted, acquitting to 1.6 billion tons of food that spoiled on the way to the market or expired in our refrigerators or were simply thrown out
by supermarkets and restaurants at the end of the day. Every single year,
up to 600 million people will get sick eating contaminated food, highlighting the challenge that we have
of maintaining global food safety. And, maybe unsurprisingly, the agricultural industry is the single largest
consumer of fresh water, accounting for 70 percent of global usage. Now, you’ll be relieved to know that the agricultural industry and that the global movement
by universities, companies and NGOs is putting together comprehensive research and developing novel technology to address all of these issues. And many have been doing it for decades. But one of the more recent
innovations in food production being deployed in industrial parks
in North America, in the urban city centers of Asia, and even in the arid deserts
of the Middle East is controlled environment agriculture. Controlled environment agriculture
is actually just a fancy way of saying weather- or climate-proof farming, and many of these farms grow food
three-dimensionally in vertical racks, as opposed to the two dimensions
of conventional farms. And so this type of food production
is also referred to as indoor vertical farming. I’ve been involved
in the indoor vertical farming space for the past five and a half years, developing technology
to make this type of food production more efficient and affordable. This picture was taken outside
of a decommissioned shipping container that we converted into an indoor farm and then launched into the heart
and the heat of Dubai. Indoor vertical farming
is a relatively recent phenomena, commercially speaking, and the reason for this is that consumers
care more about food safety and where their food comes from, and also, the necessary technology
to make this possible is more readily available and lower cost, and the overall cost of food production
globally is actually increasing, making this type of food production
more competitive. So if you want to build
an indoor vertical farm, you will need to replace some of
the conventional elements of farming with artificial substitutes, starting with sunlight. In indoor vertical farms, natural sunlight is replaced
with artificial lighting like LEDs. While there are many different types
of LEDs being used, the one that we decided to install here is called “full spectrum LEDs,” which was optimized for the type
of vegetables that we were growing. Also, in order to maximize
production for a given space, indoor vertical farms also utilize
and install racking systems to grow vegetables vertically, and some of the biggest facilities stack their production
14 to 16 floors high. Now most of these farms are hydroponic
or aeroponic systems, which means that instead of using soil, they use a substitute material
like polyurethane sponges, biodegradable peat moss and even use inorganic materials
like perlite and clay pellets. Another unique aspects about these farms is that they use
a precise nutrient formula that is circulated and recycled
throughout the facility, and this is pumped directly
to the vegetables’ root zone to promote plant growth. And lastly, these farms use a sophisticated monitoring
and automation system to significantly increase productivity, efficiency and consistency, and these tools also provide
the added benefit of producing food that is
more traceable and safe. Some of the obvious benefits
of growing food in this way is that you have year-round
vegetable production, you have consistent quality
and you have predictable output. Some of the other major benefits include significant
resource use efficiencies, particularly water. For every kilogram of vegetables
grown in this way, hundreds of liters of water is conserved
compared to conventional farming methods. And with the water savings come similar savings
in the use of fertilizer. One of the highest-yielding farms grows over 350 times more food
per square meter than a conventional farm. And weatherproofing means complete control
of incoming contaminants and pests, completely eliminating the need
for the use of chemical pesticides. And not to be mistaken, these farms can produce
enormous amounts of food, with one of the biggest facilities producing 30,000 heads
of vegetables a day. However, as with any
new technology or innovation, there are some drawbacks. As you would imagine, growing food in this way
can be incredibly energy-intensive. Also, these farms can only produce
a small variety of vegetables commercially and the overall cost of the production
still is quite high. And in order to address these issues, some of the biggest
and most sophisticated farms are making significant investments,
starting with energy efficiency. In order to reduce the high energy usage, there are efforts to develop
higher-efficiency LEDs, to develop lasers
optimized for plant growth and using even
fiber-optic cables like these to channel sunlight directly
into an indoor vertical farm during the day to reduce the need
for artificial lighting. Also, to reduce the labor costs associated
with hiring a more sophisticated, more urban and also
more high-skilled labor force, robotics in automation is used extensively
in large-scale facilities. And you can never really be
too resource-efficient. Building indoor vertical farms
in and around urban city centers can help to shorten
the agricultural supply chain and also help to maintain
the nutritional content in vegetables. Also, there are food deserts
in many countries that have little to no access
to nutritious vegetables, and as this industry matures, it will become possible
to provide more equitable access to high-quality,
highly nutritious vegetables in even the most
underprivileged of communities. And finally, and this is
really exciting for me personally, indoor vertical farming
can actually be integrated seamlessly into the cityscape to help repurpose idle, underutilized
and unused urban infrastructure. In fact, this is already happening today. Ride-sharing services have taken
hundreds of thousands of cars off the road and they have significantly reduced
the need for parking. This is a farm that we installed
in central Beijing in an underutilized
underground parking structure to grow vegetables for the nearby hotels. Underutilized infrastructure is not simply limited
to large-scale civil engineering projects, and they can also include smaller spaces
like idle restaurant corners. This is an example
of a farm that we installed directly into the partition
of a hotel entrance in order to grow fresh herbs
and microgreens on-site for the chefs. Honestly, if you look around, you will find underutilized
space everywhere, under, around and inside
of urban developments. This is a farm that we installed
into an empty office corner to grow fresh vegetables
for the employees in nearby cafes. I get to be a part
of all these cool projects and working in the agricultural industry to improve access and affordability to fresh and nutritious produce, hopefully soon by anyone anywhere, has been the greatest joy
and also the most humbling and intellectually challenging
thing I’ve ever done. And now that I’ve convinced you
that agriculture can be quite sexy, you’ll be surprised and shocked to know that I still have trouble fully articulating how and why
I decided to work, and continue to work, in the agricultural industry. But a couple of years ago,
I found a rather unique answer hiding in plain sight. You see, I read an article about how your name, particularly your last name, can have a strong influence on everything from your personality
to your professional career. This is my Japanese last name: Oda. And the characters translate literally into “small farm.” (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

100 Comments

  1. Museum of Drawing Author

    Electric cars that are driverless can run all day and night. What do you do with all those parking garages underground?
    Food production.

    Reply
  2. Lucas Glenn Author

    I love your vision, passion, and effort, Stuart! Thank you for the information! I am watching your talk twice in a row and will be looking into your work more. About your name, I've heard things about one's name being predictive or determinative, and I can understand how that could be so, but I wonder if maybe your interest in agriculture is also because thinking about and working in agriculture is still really important (as you outlined so well) and your name is reflective of work that your ancestor was doing at the time when last names became a thing, farming being a pretty common occupation for the last 12,000 years. Just a thought.

    Reply
  3. koolerpure Author

    imagine AI and robotics combined with aquaponic vertical farms and algae wall segments that provide energy and food for the mini ecosystem in the pond system

    Reply
  4. Jacob Ceniceros Author

    Imagine a restaraunt that grows all of it's own produce. Selecting traits that changes the flavor profile to complement their cuisine perfectly creating a unique experience for their customers.

    Reply
  5. PrivateSi Author

    In 'My Future World' every office block full of pen-pushing papiermache brains is a vertical farm, with fish and shrooms in the basement, free range chickens on the top few levels and roof, with fruit, nuts, veg and bees in between… so many eggs, so much honey… The fish waste water and chicken crap and waste biomass provides organic fertilising water… the plants and the growing substrate filter the water back to the fish….. You can even pump in tons of CO2 if you like, THE GREENERY WILL LOVE IT!….. Climate Phobes….

    Every city, let alone nation should strive for FOOD INDEPENDENCE….

    Reply
  6. Tom Hamrick Author

    Today's under-utilized urban infrastructure (which you continue to stress as a positive) 7:48 will not exist in 2050. According to your numbers 0:37, the projected global population in 2050 is 9.8 bn with 68% of that population living in cities. The cost of verticle 'urban' farming (rental or ownership of buildings) will be too expensive in 2050 if it's forced to compete with the cost of housing for a growing population. Not only is the population going to increase but there will also be an increase (from 55% to 68%) in the percentage of the population moving to cities and competing for urban infrastructure.

    Reply
  7. Artem Klimov Author

    Why just not to use sunlight, greenhouses? We were doing it successfully for ages. And, yes, you can use hydroponics, recirculating water there and even make it look cool.

    Reply
  8. Matt Pearson Author

    This is an all to common manipulation of statistics, first pose the problem in light of all agricultural production, then pose a solution that addresses less than 1% of agricultural production (fresh greens and a few fruit crops). It will have a very limited impact. Plus food produced with no soil, no sun, no stress, and no humans is not something I would personally like to eat.

    Reply
  9. Mr. Garber Author

    The Samsung lm301h does 230 lpw, while Cree hit 303 lpw back a few years ago (1watt 25C neuteral white) , but never made a high powered led over 202 before they sold the lighting part of the company. 340 is the theoretical maximum efficiency. We will need these 303 lpw LEDs to avoid a cooling nightmare in the depicted setup!! Breaking 200 lpw is the tipping point where the heat sink requirements go down exponentially. Heat sinks are a nightmare. Without hearsink, efficiency and led life beyond a few hundred hours is impossible. These lights need cheap power. Solar and wind are not enough. Fusion, ITER, is a pipe dream and a monopoly. Solar and wind help democratize, but won't ever be enough for our needs. Hydroelectric has a 80 time return on investment, solar only 7. Thorium is 2000 times return on investment. 4th generation of fusion, safe, is the answer. While there is 100,000 year supply of thorium, 2 years ago a cheap way was found for getting a. Unlimited supply of uranium out of sea water. Whether liquid molten salt cooling, or liquid lead, or the safe bead system, this is the best way to feed 10 billion people. This technology will save humanity when the current warm Holocene ends, which it is overdue to end. Getting off fossil fuels is a great ruse to make the conversion to cheap thorium, which can provide unlimited energy for a third the cost of coal. The USA dollar being propped up by oil is the biggest impediment. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QRXG5JEFPr7C279rfaOAOWznY-JYcZ5l7PYZKM3cxL4/edit?usp=drivesdk

    Reply
  10. Casual Overtraining Author

    I thought it was amazing what they're doing with these farms as part of Israel's exhibition at the 2015 Milan EXPO; now we have the means to seriously implement this amazing technology worldwide. There may be hope for the future guys 🙂

    Reply
  11. Jules Author

    I understand saving money and I like everything else in the presentation… But the robotics bit didn't sound so good. Sure, save money….but what about jobs? There's a huge lack there of.

    Reply
  12. Luca Afferri Author

    It all sounds very fancy and this may be the future but honestly he has only shown pictures of salad. I wonder how this can be possible with veg like cauliflower, artichoke, pineapple and so on. Not to mention all the things that grow underneath the soil (potatoes, …). Last but not least would you be happy to see instead of actual fields container-fields?

    Reply
  13. Babush Babushi Author

    nothing can replace the sun light, and nothing can replace the nature, the earth, so save the earth dont contaminate it, then everyone will have something to eat.

    Reply
  14. undecidedgenius Author

    I am not sure if it is a obstacle or not but I would think that it would eventually be moved into peoples homes. I have an attic and basement that are not used that much and if the growing was pretty much automated, I would think that many would move the farm into their homes.

    Reply
  15. Edward Anderson Author

    the problem is the generation of electricity on a large scale to generate lighting that is inferior to sunlight compared to plants receiving sunlight directly, which is why many cannabis growers use the greenhouse method. Now other factors such as soil creation and enviroment control are really the useful takeaway, these methods combined with organic and permaculture techniques are going to be the future.

    Reply
  16. svenm sandity Author

    Climate change is highly related to food and agriculture it isnt cars burning coal causing these issues its our need to eat and drink yes they play a big role but no where near half or even 1-4th of the current problem

    Reply
  17. Giovanni P. Author

    Incorrect. we dump more food than quoted. Farmers can't sell carrots because they are bent or too big; cabbages too small or big etc. The major issue is trace elements in our food – the lack of which causes dis-ease in living organisms. Carbon dioxide: a doubling of atmospheric levels of Carbon dioxide when growing wheat, increases yields by 50%.

    Reply
  18. Rajamanickam Antonimuthu Author

    I would like to know whether anyone can use the technologies developed for vertical farming without any patent restriction? If patents are going to play a significant role in vertical farming, greedy corporates will start controlling the price of food similar to medicine prices. It will be a real danger if the Governments are not taking proper steps to regulate this system to provide open access and compatibility of the tools developed by various companies.

    Reply
  19. Mac Smiffy Author

    This might be a silly question, but if we grow our plant food inside, won’t that mean a loss of oxygen being released back into the atmosphere, leading to greater imbalance of gases in the atmosphere?

    Reply
  20. Michel Kegels Author

    If someone shows me a comprehensive land and resource use for these farms, I might be able to take the claims more serious. For now I am not convinced this is that sustainable, compared with innovative market gardening practices.

    Reply
  21. David A Author

    The taste of some of these "Hot House" style veggies is poor. For instance most tomatoes now are just flat tasting. But chefs hide this with salts and spices. Some cucumbers are the same as well. The quality is declining and have you noticed (across the US I noticed) that small flys and knats are increasing in the supermarket produce section. So as exciting as this talk is I am hoping some of these issues can be addressed

    Reply
  22. Nell Raven Author

    Building into the ground like a basement is natural block from any weather and using geothermal heating would cut down on the need for insulation
    Having a greenhouse roofing could be utilized in certain areas instead of relying on just LED lighting
    Rain water collection using black tubing and rain bins, keep water warm in cool climates and colder climates can use solar powered heating and water treatment system would be needed for water collection and distribution which could also b powered solar or geothermal energy
    These can be done on small and large scale projects

    Reply
  23. MsJeffreyF Author

    Only 600 million get sick from food a year? I feel I get sick from food nearly every year. Ride sharing took cars OFF the road!? I know Ted Talks have a lotta BS in them, but this guy seems really dumb

    Also, small rice field doesn't literally mean small farm

    Reply
  24. Robert Miles Author

    Part of the value of this may be in getting around zoning laws. It's not legal to have a farm in the middle of most cities. But I guess if it's just a cabinet inside another business, it's too small to 'count'?

    Reply
  25. Niceone Author

    Everytime i see a vertical farm, it only holds herbs and salads. I've never seen them grow potatoes, carrots, celery or other root vegetables, that will actually fill an adult stomach. Nor do I see tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or other fruits. Is that not being done?

    Reply
  26. Anthony Coyle Author

    energy needed to make thes system and run these e-waste farms that produce low nutritional leafy greens
    If you're stupid enough to invest in these systems you got but you deserve it's a scam they are just trying to wow you with a light show
    The 13 nutrients in a three element require to grow a plant I just the bare minimum for it to survive
    Nutrition ,light spectrum light intensity have a direct correlation but the quality of the produce.
    The stupid delusional Conartists should be arrested for pushing this crap on society and anyone inventing in this you really think about what you are doing

    Reply
  27. Nii P. Author

    If it's so cheap and easy, why property owners and investors doesn't do it already, instead of renting their homes to people? I mean, the idea is many decades old, but renting urban space is expensive and won't get cheaper in the future!
    Let's say for 1 m²/month:
    10$ average rent cost (in a flat)
    2$ power
    5$ staff (1500$ salary for 1 guy handling 300m²)
    3$ environmental investment and maintenance (LEDs, pumps, shelves, repairs…)
    ________________________________________________________
    = 20$ total
    Medium time of vegis to get grown ~ 3 month
    =60$/m² costs
    On 2.50 m high shelves (in a flat) you can have max 5 levels for growing vegies = 5 m².
    Now, what do you think to get on income from these 5m² in 3 months? Well, seems pretty obvious, that it won't get any near to 60 dollars, even with high quality organic vegies!
    So, if you want to burn your money, it's the right business for you! But you could do that just with a lighter as well, and in a much easier way.

    Reply
  28. Nii P. Author

    Well, if you want to eat only "leavy" vegies with nearly no calories for a lifetime, yes. But what's about the really needed ones, like potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, all kinda beans, all that carbohydrate, which will be needed by your body for not starving to death by eating only leaves?

    Reply
  29. Nii P. Author

    Well, if you want to eat only "leavy" vegies with nearly no calories for a lifetime, yes. But what's about the really needed ones, like potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, all kinda beans, all that carbohydrate, which will be needed by your body for not starving to death by eating only leaves?

    Reply
  30. KootFloris Author

    There's one huge danger with this plan. When we start to kill normal nature, disconnect all our nature from the wider ecosystem, just for our productions, we may impoverish our already fragile ecosystem beyond tipping points. So, yes, make cities self sustainable in food and no, keep this part of the wider ecosystem.

    Reply
  31. Jako Author

    Vertical farming is unsustainable. Instead of relying on direct sunlight, and soil microorganisms, the way plant biology worked for billions of years, vertical farms require external energy, and they produce plants devoid of crucial minerals.
    Regenerative agriculture that focuses on soil restoration is the only way moving forward.

    Reply
  32. Georges Vernier Author

    This is pure bullshit, you might be able to produce salads, weed and few crops but the infrastructure cost (ecologically and financially) is so damn high that I hope this will not be the technologies that we will use to feed the world. Doing so would deplete any kind of ressource there is left on this planet to reproduce the single thing that nature does best ==> produce life with soil, rainwater, and sun all of it for free. Creating this kind of farming is destroying the environment and is wasting precious ressources. Keeping fertile soil in cities is our only best option to sustain population while keeping short distance between production and consumers and preserving the world ecosystem and its diversity.

    Reply
  33. Noukz Author

    Too bad that in the beginning he didn't mention at all the meat and dairy industry and how much of the agriculture resources are being consumed by them. In 2050, we won't be able to afford growing and farming animals for our consumption.

    Reply
  34. T.D. McCarty Author

    Not sure how removing the food the earth has evolved for us to consume over millions of years would go over… Pretty sure there's a symbiotic relationship between the mycelial networks in the earth's crust that regulate and dictate what ecosystems grow where and how they adapt to the environment they inhibit.. Im afraid unplugging our food from natures self regulating qualities would produce food that will evolve to lack the essential bacteria's and hormones.

    Reply

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