By 2050, the global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion. How are we going to feed everyone? Investment-banker-turned-farmer Stuart Oda points to indoor vertical farming: growing food on tiered racks in a controlled, climate-proof environment. In a forward-looking talk, he explains how this method can maintain better safety standards, save money, use less water and help us provide for future generations.

2050 年までに、世界の人口は 98 億人に達すると予測されています。

どうやってみんなにご飯を食べさせるの? 投資銀行家から農家に転身したスチュアート・オダ氏は、屋内垂直農業、つまり管理された気候に耐えられる環境で階層状のラックで食料を栽培することを指摘する。 将来を見据えた講演の中で、彼はこの方法がどのようにしてより良い安全基準を維持し、お金を節約し、水の使用量を減らし、将来の世代に供給するのに役立つかを説明します。

Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture?
スピーカー スチュアート・オダ
アップロード 2020/02/08

「屋内垂直農場は農業の未来?(Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture?)」の文字起こし

So if you live on planet Earth and you’re one of seven billion people that eats food every day, I need you to pay attention, because over the next three decades, we will need to address one of the most critical global challenges of our generation. And I’m not talking about climate change. I’m talking about food and agriculture.

In 2050, our global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion, with 68 percent of us living in urban city centers. In order to feed this massive population, we will need to increase our agricultural output by 70 percent over current levels. Just to put this number into perspective, we will need to grow more food in the next 35 to 40 years than the previous 10,000 years combined. Put simply, not only is our global population becoming bigger, but it’s also getting denser, and we will need to grow significantly more food using significantly less land and resources.

Complicating our current efforts to address these major demographic shifts are the challenges facing the agricultural industry today. Globally, one third of all the food that we produce is wasted, equating to 1.6 billion tons of food that spoiled on the way to the market or expired in our refrigerators or were simply thrown out by supermarkets and restaurants at the end of the day. Every single year, up to 600 million people will get sick eating contaminated food, highlighting the challenge that we have of maintaining global food safety. And, maybe unsurprisingly, the agricultural industry is the single largest consumer of fresh water, accounting for 70 percent of global usage.

Now, you’ll be relieved to know that the agricultural industry and that the global movement by universities, companies, and NGOs is putting together comprehensive research and developing novel technology to address all of these issues. And many have been doing it for decades. But one of the more recent innovations in food production being deployed in industrial parks in North America, in the urban city centers of Asia, and even in the arid deserts of the Middle East is controlled environment agriculture.

Controlled environment agriculture is actually just a fancy way of saying weather- or climate-proof farming, and many of these farms grow food three-dimensionally in vertical racks, as opposed to the two dimensions of conventional farms. And so this type of food production is also referred to as indoor vertical farming.

I’ve been involved in the indoor vertical farming space for the past five and a half years, developing technology to make this type of food production more efficient and affordable. This picture was taken outside of a decommissioned shipping container that we converted into an indoor farm and then launched into the heart and the heat of Dubai.

Indoor vertical farming is a relatively recent phenomena, commercially speaking, and the reason for this is that consumers care more about food safety and where their food comes from, and also, the necessary technology to make this possible is more readily available and lower cost, and the overall cost of food production globally is actually increasing, making this type of food production more competitive.

So if you want to build an indoor vertical farm, you will need to replace some of the conventional elements of farming with artificial substitutes, starting with sunlight. In indoor vertical farms, natural sunlight is replaced with artificial lighting like LEDs. While there are many different types of LEDs being used, the one that we decided to install here is called “full spectrum LEDs,” which was optimized for the type of vegetables that we were growing.

Also, in order to maximize production for a given space, indoor vertical farms also utilize and install racking systems to grow vegetables vertically, and some of the biggest facilities stack their production 14 to 16 floors high.

Now most of these farms are hydroponic or aeroponic systems, which means that instead of using soil, they use a substitute material like polyurethane sponges, biodegradable peat moss, and even use inorganic materials like perlite and clay pellets.

Another unique aspect about these farms is that they use a precise nutrient formula that is circulated and recycled throughout the facility, and this is pumped directly to the vegetables’ root zone to promote plant growth.

And lastly, these farms use a sophisticated monitoring and automation system to significantly increase productivity, efficiency, and consistency, and these tools also provide the added benefit of producing food that is more traceable and safe.

Some of the obvious benefits of growing food in this way is that you have year-round vegetable production, consistent quality, and predictable output. Some of the other major benefits include significant resource use efficiencies, particularly water. For every kilogram of vegetables grown in this way, hundreds of liters of water are conserved compared to conventional farming methods. And with the water savings come similar savings in the use of fertilizer. One of the highest-yielding farms grows over 350 times more food per square meter than a conventional farm. And weatherproofing means complete control of incoming contaminants and pests, completely eliminating the need for the use of chemical pesticides.

And not to be mistaken, these farms can produce enormous amounts of food, with one of the biggest facilities producing 30,000 heads of vegetables a day. However, as with any new technology or innovation, there are some drawbacks. As you would imagine, growing food in this way can be incredibly energy-intensive. Also, these farms can only produce a small variety of vegetables commercially and the overall cost of the production still is quite high.

And in order to address these issues, some of the biggest and most sophisticated farms are making significant investments, starting with energy efficiency. In order to reduce the high energy usage, there are efforts to develop higher-efficiency LEDs, to develop lasers optimized for plant growth, and using even fiber-optic cables like these to channel sunlight directly into an indoor vertical farm during the day to reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Also, to reduce the labor costs associated with hiring a more sophisticated, more urban, and also more high-skilled labor force, robotics in automation is used extensively in large-scale facilities. And you can never really be too resource-efficient. Building indoor vertical farms in and around urban city centers can help to shorten the agricultural supply chain and also help to maintain the nutritional content in vegetables.

Also, there are food deserts in many countries that have little to no access to nutritious vegetables, and as this industry matures, it will become possible to provide more equitable access to high-quality, highly nutritious vegetables in even the most underprivileged of communities. And finally, and this is really exciting for me personally, indoor vertical farming can actually be integrated seamlessly into the cityscape to help repurpose idle, underutilized, and unused urban infrastructure.

In fact, this is already happening today. Ride-sharing services have taken hundreds of thousands of cars off the road and they have significantly reduced the need for parking. This is a farm that we installed in central Beijing in an underutilized underground parking structure to grow vegetables for the nearby hotels. Underutilized infrastructure is not simply limited to large-scale civil engineering projects, and they can also include smaller spaces like idle restaurant corners.

This is an example of a farm that we installed directly into the partition of a hotel entrance in order to grow fresh herbs and microgreens on-site for the chefs. Honestly, if you look around, you will find underutilized space everywhere, under, around, and inside of urban developments. This is a farm that we installed into an empty office corner to grow fresh vegetables for the employees in nearby cafes. I get to be a part of all these cool projects and working in the agricultural industry to improve access and affordability to fresh and nutritious produce, hopefully soon by anyone anywhere, has been the greatest joy and also the most humbling and intellectually challenging thing I’ve ever done.

And now that I’ve convinced you that agriculture can be quite sexy, you’ll be surprised and shocked to know that I still have trouble fully articulating how and why I decided to work, and continue to work, in the agricultural industry.

But a couple of years ago, I found a rather unique answer hiding in plain sight. You see, I read an article about how your name, particularly your last name, can have a strong influence on everything from your personality to your professional career.

This is my Japanese last name: Oda. And the characters translate literally into “small farm.”

Thank you.

「屋内垂直農場は農業の未来?(Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture?)」の和訳