To reduce reader’s load, we separate this article into 3 parts, keep following OnHydroponics to get latest update.



In Part.1, we learn how vertical farming beginning and the hype. The hype is creating a dangerous bubble which threatens to put the industry back several years. With Silicon Valley money now pouring into vertical farming because of the hype from technologists, everything is changing. Many of the mistakes made years ago are being made today by new entrants. People are reinventing and repackaging failed ideas. Recently, there was an excellent panel hosted at the Aglanta Conference where vertical farming pioneers discussed the challenges facing the industry.

Here are a few things the industry needs to hear:

• Small Vertical Farms are at best a hobby that pays for itself, at worst it’s a financial nightmare for the operator. there are some successful small-scale vertical farms in operation today. However, what has made them successful has little to do with their technology and more to do with their geographic location, local market conditions and how they market their products. Generally speaking the margins are thin in small scale vertical farming. The failure rate is quite high.



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•There are too many LED and Software/Automation companies in the vertical farming industry. Large scale vertical farms are developing far slower than any of us expected. They are capital intensive, require huge amounts of planning, engineering and developers must deal with complicated zoning and other regulatory hurdles. What’s fueling the ancillary business growth isn’t big vertical farms, but the rapid growth and interest in smaller vertical farms. The majority of the industry is built upon a weak economic model. This bubble is eventually going to pop.


• Vertical Farming is NOT going to solve the looming food crises. Amazon acquired Whole Foods because more affluent buyers are willing to spend more on higher quality produce. It is this demand for a higher quality product by those who can afford it that is driving the vertical farming industry today. Maybe in 100 years humanity will have to completely rethink its diet to survive and vertical farms will ditch leafy greens and microgreens for a hybrid GMO, high-protein cultivar that science has yet to engineer.



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• Vertical Farming is not more sustainable. The carbon foot print of a head of lettuce coming out of a small vertical farm is terribly high. It’s a tough pill to swallow when someone tells you that your small vertical farm is not environmentally friendly, but it’s not.


• It’s not the “Vertical” in Vertical Farming that is key, it’s the ability to control the environment with precision. Much of vertical farming is based on the fact that crops are grown in layers. However, the biggest asset of a vertical farm isn’t the layers, it’s the ability to provide a controlled environment. The focus should be on maximizing that aspect, not on how many layers you can stack. Think outside the box. Select crops that can benefit from this control.


•HVAC, it’s the most often overlooked aspect of Vertical Farming. While many focus on the growing system, lighting or the software that runs a vertical farm, very few people make the right choices when it comes to HVAC. A plant needs airflow to properly transpire. However, too much airflow is bad as well. An indoor farm with oscillating fans and standalone dehumidifiers is a farm that wasn’t properly designed. Vertical Farms are not office buildings, they are more like data centers. A properly engineered vertical farm HVAC system should be capable of removing humidity and heat via a central plant that would be designed in a manner that allows airflow management across the plant canopy. There’s no point cooling the isles, or empty spaces.Invest in airflow modeling to see where potential problems might be.


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• What is your ROI after considering additional CAPEX in years 5 and 10? Today’s vertical farms are bigger, but less complicated than their earliest large-scale predecessors. In some respects, the industry has come full circle back to talking expensive automation again. The question everyone must ask now is what is my ROI after say just 10 years? LED lights are going to fizzle out, mechanical systems are going to fail and pumps will need to be rebuilt. It would not be crazy to suggest that up to 70% of a vertical farm system will undergo some level of replacement or repair within a 10-year window. Does your vertical farm design allow for ease of maintenance? How does this fit into your cost model? Did you consider this in your business plan? This is where vertical farming is going to see its biggest challenge in the coming years. Vertical Farming will need to prove that the ROI is worth it before more capital is required to be injected into the business to keep it viable. I don’t see this happening for most of the big vertical farms operating today. Most will end up being maintenance nightmares within five years which will drive operating costs up


( end of Part.2, In part.3 Chad’s gave a few things that he believes are going to be important in the Vertical Farming 2.0 movement moving forward. Please following OnHydroponics and our Facebook fan page to get latest update! )

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