It seems the world is at a new technological frontier.
Everyone is looking for the next innovative way to optimize every aspect of life, which is often artificial intelligence (AI). You might have heard of new tools aiding farmers in their work, but did you imagine AI-driven vertical farming would join the mix so soon? The Earth is digitizing faster than you know, finding solutions for problems your grandparents never imagined.
Vertical farming already seems like the most innovative solution to farming’s struggles. How are brilliant minds planning to do even more by adding AI? How do farmers feel about the automation options they currently have access to?
Vertical farming is an agricultural practice where crops stack on top of each other in a controlled environment, usually a building. The process aims to take up less land for plant growth, optimize water use and help crops thrive.
This new form of farming has various benefits for the environment. Number one — it uses less ground to grow more food. In the United States alone, agricultural production takes up 52% of land, adversely affecting nature. Imagine how many trees were cut down, animal homes that were flattened and food wildlife can no longer access. Utilizing so much space for crops is detrimental to the survival of human’s fellow animals and reduces the ability of nature to sequester CO2 emissions.
Vertical farming eliminates those issues, plus a few more. In an interview with the Technical University of Munich, Professor Senthold Asseng explained vertical farming could grow as many as 100 layers of crops on a single hectare of land. Additionally, it can reduce food insecurity because farmers can keep producing crops throughout the year. Weather is no longer an issue. This will also cut down on the emissions that occur when crops ship in from around the world while they’re not in season.
Professor Asseng believes vertical farms' intensive care and growth conditions will significantly increase yields. Further optimization could cut water use by 90% and fully eliminate the need for pesticides. The process will be even cleaner once farmers can address the energy these buildings use. Overall, vertical farming has the exciting potential to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution, save habitats and promote food security.
AI is already helping out in many aspects of traditional farming. From the latest Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to automating harvests, farmers are already getting a taste of what technology can offer. Artificial intelligence is the natural next step for vertical farms.
Humans are good at recognizing when a crop might need something, but AI is even better. These models can detect when they might need water and how much to use, when to adjust the temperature and when a vegetable is ready for harvesting. Tracking what a plant requires and knowing exactly when to offer it helps crops offer many more yields, as their growing conditions are optimal. An interconnected series of AI programs can unite all the needs of a vertical farm and make changes when necessary.
For example, plants need CO2 to grow and produce healthy crops. However, regular air only contains around 300–500 parts per million and greenhouses deplete CO2 faster than they can replenish it. Adding CO2 can increase crop production by 20%, encourage plant growth, make them more stress-resistant and optimize photosynthesis. But how would a person accurately judge when an environment needs more CO2? Instead, AI can take over and accurately determine the correct levels for total plant efficiency.
Additionally, AI can reduce how much electricity a vertical farm uses. Because it can tell when an environment needs a temperature adjustment or additional CO2, farmers won’t accidentally waste energy by making those changes when they’re unnecessary. Nearly a third of a building’s energy is waste, but AI can cut power consumption by 20 to twenty-five percent.
An excellent showcase of AI-driven vertical farming comes from Bowery Farming. It has thousands of crops growing simultaneously, which would be pretty hard to manage without technology, as you could imagine. The BoweryOS can alert harvesters of crops they should harvest within the next day or ones that need more light. Their system can also keep track of potential health issues with plants, helping prevent disease from running rampant.
The team also uses AI to determine the best “crop recipe” — or what a plant needs to thrive. They can address the lighting, water, environment and nutrient conditions of the most successful yields, then teach the AI to reproduce those levels. Artificial intelligence allows farmers to experiment with their plants and find the best ways to nourish them for optimal results.
Plenty — a San Francisco agricultural startup — is using AI to make high-production farming sustainable. While their growing space is 2 acres, the company says it can produce 720 acres of fruit and vegetables because of vertical farming and AI. It claims its process creates 400 times more food per acre than standard farming and grows close to where it sells, reducing carbon emissions. Plenty also says the AI then learns the optimal conditions, allowing it to replicate that environment for future crops.
Its AI is helping make agriculture much less resource intensive. Plenty believes its vertical farm saves 99% of land from farm use and uses 95% less water. By using AI to monitor light and temperature, Plenty can reduce its electricity use to lower its carbon footprint even further. All these advancements make the crops grow faster, reducing food insecurity while not damaging the environment.
While much of the world fears robots taking their jobs, vertical farmers are excited about combining AI and produce. Many are thrilled about how automation can lower the impact of farming while maximizing food production. Also, they love how it can make their buildings energy efficient and allow for growth closer to the consumer, decreasing everyone’s carbon footprint. Though they might not replace outdoor farms, AI-driven vertical farming has the potential to revolutionize the agricultural industry.