Section 4 - Overview of Vertical farming
Part B – Vertical farming
Vertical farming is a new technology which may offer particular opportunities to help Scotland increase its local food production and bring food production closer to the consumer, whether in city centres or in remote communities. The SNP manifesto for the 2021 election made a commitment to support the development of vertical, low carbon farms, fuelled by renewable energy, to produce more of our own fruit and vegetables.
Vertical farming is an indoor farming technique where crops are produced in vertical structures such as stacks, trays, or small towers to increase production per square metre. All or some elements of the environment are controlled (such as lighting, ventilation, and water/nutrient provision) to match conditions to the crop's needs and to optimise output. The technology can be used in small, scalable shipping containers; in retrofitted buildings; or in purpose-built facilities. Vertical farming often incorporates hydroponic or aeroponic growing systems rather than traditional growing media. Leafy greens are currently the most common crop, but research is in progress on a range of other plants, fish, insects, and algae.
Because of their comparatively small land use and controlled climates, vertical farms can be situated in areas not traditionally associated with food production or in areas where the climate is not favourable to the crop. They can also support production out of season. Remote communities could benefit from security of supply and fresher produce. Vertical farms could also be used to bring food production into urban centres and make use of brownfield sites. Different technologies may be suitable for different crops and different locations.
Vertical farming may offer efficiencies in water usage, fertiliser usage, and pesticide usage. However, vertical farming is energy-intensive compared to outdoor production, and the food miles that are saved have to be balanced against the increased energy emissions. They are expensive to build, and currently only a small range of crops are at the stage of commercial production. Their role in supporting Scotland to produce its own local food is still to be better understood. The consultation also invites suggestions on other technologies which would help Scotland produce more of its own fruit and vegetables.