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A Growing Crisis
We've all seen in the news the increase in global crises from the effects of climate change. Unprecedented temperatures, storms, and drought are all having an impact on our civilisation.
Land use across the globe, through deforestation, land degradation, and urban development, has also had an impact on rainfall patterns as well as further contributing to climate change.
All of this means, according to a report by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, in March 2023, that through a combination of changed rainfall patterns and a failure to conserve our freshwater ecosystems, the world faces the “prospect of a 40% shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030, with severe shortages in water-constrained regions”.i
As well as affecting our ability to ensure universal access to clean water, this has an impact on food security, health, ending poverty, and may lead to an increase in world conflict.
It seems a lot, for people living on a blue planet.
So, what can we do?
One solution to this crisis is to improve our agriculture. Our current system is increasingly unable to keep up with a growing population, set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050ii, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimating that food production will need to increase significantly in that time to meet demand.iii
In recent decades, the focus has been on squeezing more from the existing system, through pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial factory farming, However, high-yield farming methods are “characterized by their instable consumption of our limited reserves of fresh water, fossil fuel and soil.”iv
As well as being unable to keep up with demand, current farming practices are not placed where there is the greatest need. According to the Global Sustainable Development Goals 2015 Brief on Urban Agriculture, it is anticipated that 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.v
A Vertical Solution
That's where the concept of vertical farming comes in. As the name suggests, vertical farming is the process of planting crops in vertically stacked trays and using either hydroponic or aeroponic methods to grow the plants without soil. Controlled climate and irrigation systems create optimal conditions for plant growth, while the stacked arrangement maximises space, leading to higher food production.
The advantages to the system are many: higher yield from lower consumption of raw materials (water, soil, nutrients); the ability to grow food where it is needed, in urban centres, thus reducing the reliance on fossil-fuel run transport systems; the ability to utilise wastewater and brown-field sites; protection from the consequences of climate change due to the controlled indoor environment and, most importantly, up to 95% reduction in water consumption.
Of course, there is always challenge with new technology. Plants need sun and rain to grow, and these are typically free. In a vertical farm, water needs to be pumped in, and artificial light is often required. Which means vertical farms are reliant on power, thereby contributing to the climate crisis, rather than alleviating it. However, with the right technology, these challenges can be mitigated.
Enter Würth Elektronik. The company is actively accelerating the green revolution by supporting the development of the farm of tomorrow to be a part of sustainable food production.
Plants need the energy from light for photosynthesis. Traditionally, indoor light sources such as fluorescent tubes have been very inefficient. LED lighting requires much lower power, making them more energy efficient. Another benefit of LED lighting is that it can target the light waves plants most need during their lifecycle, without wasting energy on colour spectra that the plants cannot use. Plants can recognise light between 280nm and 800nm, although the main frequencies used by plants, the photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) region, are defined as 400 to 700 nm.
As plants are stationary, they have evolved to respond to the different frequencies and intensities of light available through growing in the shade, circadian rhythm, circannual rhythm and weather variations. In this way, artificial light of different wavelengths can be used to orchestrate and manipulate the growth and development stages of plants.
For example, during the growth phase, plants require more blue light, while red light is crucial for flowering and fruit formation. More specifically, the wavelengths 450 nm (Deep Blue), 660 nm (Hyper Red) and 730 nm (Far Red), are best suited to match the absorption spectra of photosynthetic pigments, making them ideal for horticultural lighting. Also, with varying ratios of these wavelengths, you can influence different quality parameters of the plant, such as better rooting, more biomass, higher content of secondary plant metabolites and so forth.
The WL-SMDC and WL-SMTW LED ranges from Würth Elektronik both include these important wavelengths. See them here.
Monitor and Control
As well as controlling the light spectra to suit the life stage of the plants, it is important to control the climate and nutrient provision within the vertical farm. A failure in technology, whether lighting, temperature, or water provision, could have a significant effect on the yield in a small amount of time.
However, thanks to advances in technology, it is possible to use sensors to monitor lighting, temperature, air quality, water levels, and humidity within the controlled environment. Continuous data collection and analysis allows for early detection and correction of deviations from ideal conditions, as well as valuable insight into the vitality of the plants.
Using wireless technology, information can be transmitted to a central control centre to be analysed and acted upon, enabling remote monitoring and automated control of all factors required for optimum production for minimum energy requirement. Würth Elektronik have a range of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules. View their sensors and modules here.
One of the potential drawbacks of vertical farming is the reliance on technology and its need for energy. In order to ensure the vertical farm doesn’t have a negative impact on the climate crisis, it is important to minimise the impact of the farm’s power requirements. Using renewable power sources such as wind and solar is preferable. Just as important is ensuring that the components of the farm are as efficient as possible.
As well as low-power LED lighting, and low-profile connectors to minimise shade and light waste, Würth Elektronik’s power components are designed for efficiency and longevity to contribute to optimum performance. View their range of Power inductors, capacitors, and switches here.
Whether you want to grow vegetables in the garage, or build the farm of the future, let Würth Elektronik help you on the journey towards sustainable food production.
I P.10 Turning the Tide – A Call to Collective Action by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, (March 2023). https://watercommission.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Turning-the-Tide-Report-Web.pdf
ii According to the United Nations “The world’s population is more than three times larger than it was in the mid-twentieth century. The global human population reached 8.0 billion in mid-November 2022 from an estimated 2.5 billion people in 1950 […]. The world’s population is expected to increase by nearly 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from the current 8 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050”. https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/population
iii In the FAO report Global Agriculture towards 2050, (October 2009), it states “The projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent between 2005/07 and 2050”. P.2. https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf
iv M P, Pavithra. (2018). VERTICAL FARMING: A CONCEPT. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342260487_VERTICAL_FARMING_A_CONCEPT
v P.1 GSDR 2015 Brief Urban Agriculture, (2015) By Ibrahim Game and Richaela Primus, State University of New York College of Forestry and Environmental Science, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5764Urban%20Agriculture.pdf