IMAGINE an Australian farm producing 10,000 kilograms of food in a 100 square metre space without a single ounce of soil.
The chairwoman for the Association For Vertical Farming, Munich, Germany, doesn’t think so.
“It’s perfectly possible,” Christine Zimmermann-Loessl told a group of journalists who recently attended the Bayer CropScience’s Future of Farming Dialogue at Leverkusen, Germany.
In a vertical garden plants (usually fruit, vegetables and herbs) are grown on stacked shelves. The roots lie in a nutrient-rich water solution and natural light is bolstered by LED lighting.
She said Australian farmers could use vertical gardens to counter their production risk.
“Having one part of your business as a vertical garden could be used as a strategy to secure a reliable harvest and income despite seasonal conditions.”
Because the inputs are uniform all-year-round farmers could time their entry to market to command a premium.
“You could grow summer fruit (like figs) in winter time and vice versa,” she said.
What’s more, vertical gardens could be used to provide fresh food to groups of people in crisis situations.
“You could freight in a fully established shipping container which contains a garden of pre-grown vegetables. It could be sent to a refugee camp to allow the refugees to grow their own fresh foods.”
There are already 1000 vertical farms around the world, most of which are ‘research size’ and located in China.
The cost to establish a vertical garden ranges from EU1000 to EU2000 ($AU1310 to $AU2620) a square meter.
But Ms Zimmermann-Loessl said the investment could pay dividends.
“You can produce 3kg of vegetables on a one square metre open field but in a vertical farm you can produce 97kg/square metre.”
The price of electricity could be a crippling factor for Australian farmers, but renewable energy could be used.
Currently Ms Zimmermann-Loessl is working to establish a 400 square metre vertical garden on a multipurpose building in Cologne, in western Germany.
“Hundreds of people live and work in the building and could buy their vegetables, fruit and herbs right there.”
The Association for Vertical Farming is a not-for-profit which educates the public about vertical farming and activates research funds to advance the scientific understanding of the practice.
The association’s members include multinationals like Microsoft and Philips, as well as European-based SMES and start ups.
- Jessie Davies travelled to Germany as a guest of Bayer CropScience.