The way we grow our food is changing. With challenges including climate change, land restrictions, and an increasing population, urban farming is fast becoming a global phenomenon and is common in many developing countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 800 million people grow food in and amongst high-rises and on rooftops, and the World Economic Forum’s Top 10 Urban Innovations report named it as a simple way to reduce food waste. In this article, we discuss the future of farming and highlight how CFD simulation tools can support the practice of vertical farming.
Mainstream agricultural practices have a number of major problems in need of innovative solutions. Firstly, industrial farming practices have a particularly large impact on the environment. In just one year alone, farms can emit 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases, or about 13 percent of total global emissions. That alone makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector.
Finally, the way we grow our food is not sustainable to feed a growing global population (expected to reach 10 billion by 2050). To meet this demand, more land would be needed, environmentally harmful practices and shipping arrangements would need to be increased.
Those involved in agricultural technology are hard at work, identifying modern solutions to serve demand. One rapidly growing concept is vertical farming, where containers or "plantscrapers" become vertical greenhouses ideal for growing large-scale organic farms in cities, serving regional demand and ultimately using less energy.
In 2016, Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon) moved into the farming space with his 'container farming' idea. Musk's Square Roots is an accelerator that teaches new farmers how to raise crops with LED lighting in climate-controlled shipping containers. The New Yorker Magazine explored the concept of the vertical farm which grows crops without soil and natural light.
A number of media outlets have reported a 'movement of millennials', with many leaving existing jobs to become city farmers and the facts seem to back this up:
- The number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture.
- This new crop of young farmers will likely continue to bolster the local food movement across the United States and beyond.
Controversy & Concerns
Despite good intentions, Musk's entrance into hydroponics and the Silicon Valley-style approach to farming has upset farm-to-table chefs and a number of sustainable farming advocates.
Dan Barber, one of the food world’s most prominent local and sustainable eating advocates, echoed these concerns. “The future of produce from a container, whether or not it’s next door to Jay-Z, doesn’t make me [excited],” countered Barber, after Musk playfully noted that Square Roots was located in the rapper’s old Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Barber is concerned that the rise of container farming could lead to new-age produce with inferior flavor and potentially lower nutrient content.
Musk, defending his practice, talks about solving the “salad in January” problem. Currently, Musk's Next Door restaurants located in cold-winter climates have to source greens from as far off as California or even Australia, which results in a higher carbon footprint for the meals he serves in his establishments. That might change if Square Roots graduates–or others entering the container farming space can create closer, more available substitutions.
CFD Simulation for a Changing World
Wherever you stand on the vertical farming debate, a changing global climate and increasing population is forcing innovation. The summer heat wave currently affecting much of the northern hemisphere is having a huge impact on farmers and food production with crops being burnt in fields and a lack of grass impacting livestock.
In future, farmers may be forced to create an artificial environment to create optimal growth conditions for crops, and this is where CFD simulation tools can prove hugely effective. Testing and optimizing HVAC systems within grow facilities can ensure thermal conditions are ideal, while still allowing farms to meet energy efficiency targets and save costs.
CFD simulation of an indoor farming facility.
CFD Simulation for Farming
The key to success within a container or vertical farm is being able to maintain a manufactured climate and the ideal conditions for crop growth. As briefly mentioned above, CFD (computational fluid dynamics) has the potential to help farmers understand a particular environment and assess the performance of any installed HVAC systems. Through better understanding of a container or grow facility, design changes can be made and an optimal environment created.
In summary, CFD simulation tools can help with the following farming challenges:
- Grow Salad in January: No matter what the climate, containers or grow rooms can be optimised to create ideal conditions to grow produce out of season or outside a country of origin.
- Maintain Health & Production Levels: Fans directly impact the quality and yield of crops and control contamination. Don't forget, your ventilation systems are an investment in your bottom line - why wouldn't you want them working to their maximum potential?
- Maximize Performance: Many farmers are using guess work to run their fans and HVAC systems in agricultural buildings. In numerous cases, they are running fans at higher speeds and in locations that may not be creating the optimal environment for crops or livestock. Using CFD to understand airflow within a building enables you to efficiently utilize your fans and ventilation systems in the most effective areas.
- Prolong Equipment Life: By using HVAC systems more efficiently and only as necessary, you could potentially prolong their lifespan and prevent premature failure and replacement.
- Reduce Costs: A direct advantage of a well functioning HVAC system is an increase in energy efficiency and a potential reduction in costs.
CFD simulation software is enabling indoor farmers to create the perfect growing environment.
Read more about using CFD simulation for indoor farming HVAC challenges.
Learn More About CFD For Vertical & Indoor Farming
Whether you're an existing farmer or a budding grower, accessing CFD simulation software is easier than ever. Of course, you'll still need to understand the results and what they mean, so our engineers at Envenio have created the Onboarding Program. We'll work with you on a project, simulating your grow facility and training you on the platform at the same time.
Of course, you may already use CFD software. If so, why not schedule a demo of EXN/Aero to see how our on-demand platform could help meet project requirements and provide a flexible and affordable solution.