Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture? | Stuart Oda

Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture? | Stuart Oda


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz 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, acquitting 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 aspects 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, you have consistent quality
and you have 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 is 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.” (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Are indoor vertical farms the future of agriculture? | Stuart Oda

  • With hundreds of closed down shopping malls sitting empty, seems like a natural fit. But real estate costs and politics will block that. Hopefully Amazon will start adding another floor to each of its humongous distribution centers. Then they can grow stuff and deliver it within a few hours, with no additional acreage needed. They'll just have to add a few more robots! 🙂

  • You can use the empty top floors of New York's skyscraper. They are always empty. Nobody wants to live up there. Or you could build a tower with many floors in places around cities.

  • Wow! A TED talk describing my thoughts exactly when I came across this (particularly YouTube videos) a few months ago! I paired the high energy usage with the need to further encourage the availability of Green energy sources which are known to make good sense because for the life of the source, the cost is almost entirely the initial setup and construction plus maintenance, there is usually no ongoing operational expense (ie no fuel costs).

  • Hopefully there will be more and more meaningful employment opportunities in improving sustainability. I particularly support this and cultured meat since it will reduce agricultural land usage and let nature reclaim land to help protect biodiversity.

  • This reminds me of the moral of the plot of iRobot. Robots were taught to protect humans from any threat. . The greatest threat to humans is humans. . More plentiful nutrition to more humans will lead to overpopulation. Better medicine works the same way. It is our greatest conundrum. But treading forward requires these first steps.

  • Maintaining nutrition contents is one, but it's quality is another problem.
    I always want some results comparing nutrition contents between ground-grown plants and indoor/aquaponics grown plants.
    + any kind of toxics comes from all those plastic-based plant cases ?

  • This is accounting for our current methods of food production based heavily on animal agriculture. According to various estimates we could currently produce enough plant nutrition for over 14 billions of people. Just reducing or eliminating meat consumption and production would cover those missing 70% necessary to feed a 9 bil population and more. Go vegan.

  • I believe that Golf Courses Use More Water Period. So Let's turn them into Agriculture and I forgot we have plenty stored Seeds.

  • The problem is that Americans still believe that because cows eat grass that they consume enough vegetables when they eat a 64-patty burger.

  • In India there are a few companies doing vertical farming projects but they mainly produce turmeric and claim that one acre produces hundred acres equivalent turmeric. The cost of errection of one acre vertical farm is around 1.5 crores INR (2,15,000/- USD)

  • The main problem so far is that nothing that can meet our caloric needs is currently produced to my knowledge. Definitely watching this space though.

  • Hydroponic food if fucking terrible. The food is ONLY nutritious when grown in nutrient-rich soil……otherwise it is useless to the body. Yea a couple minerals but far far less nutritious than soil-grown food. Hydroponic food is just one more step in the selling of nutrient-deficient foods. I won't eat them…..their useless to me. I am 63 and completely healthy in every way under NO medication of any kind weighing the same weight as in high school (throughout my life it has been the same 32 in the waist) . I am intelligent and above all disciplined. I will likely live to 95 or more if no bacteria or virus or accident changes that. Do yourself a favor. Stay away from Hydroponic foods and tell your friends. The last thing we need is more bullshit "food" to consume.

  • For 10,000 years Agriculture has relied on a free for all forever type of energy aka "the sun" and healthy fertile land aka "the earth", where we used to have trees, multiple crops, all sort of wild animals roaming free around the farms.

    After WWII, the Green Revolution changed everything with standardization, mechanization and massive use of agrochemicals. 70 years later, we see the results with undeniable global warming, massive loss of arable land due to erosion, floods, lack of biodiversity, dependence on fossil fuel energy, pollution of rivers and oceans, billions of animals being slaughtered in factory farms, while the population rates of obesity and diabetes are shooting through the roof… The industrial agriculture model failed, now, we all know it has to stop. Great.

    Do you think people would have learned from their mistakes and go back to sustainable agro-sylvo-pastoral equilibrium? In the western world, the countryside is deserted and the cities are crowded. There are plenty of young graduates looking for a job and senior workers put on the sidelines. Why don't they move back to rural areas and start permaculture? We can put back carbon in the soil, build resilient ecosystems and feed the planet at the same time. We just need to plant more edible trees and follow organic farming methods. No pesticides, no fungicides, no synthetic fertilizers, no fossil fuel energy. Just nature doing its work. Nature has 4.5 billion years experience running an entire planet sustainably.

    But we don't hear investors raving about it. Why? Because they cannot patent "Nature". So instead, they design and build vertical farms and huge greenhouses with artificial light and synthetic soil nutrients that consumes more Kcal than they produce. They call it sustainable. Money is pouring in. Nobody care to ask what kind of world do we want to live in tomorrow? A place where children are playing in edible forests, running into the occasional wild boar or deer and fishing in unpolluted streams, or a controlled environment with no biodiversity, no trees, where they can play hide and seek around giant bioreactors and power stations?

    Choose carefully…

  • Peace be upon you
    Great work for the peoples future needs , quantitative ok but concern about its qualitative matters.
    Kindest Regards

  • That is not a question no more! Vertical farming is going to be the standard. The perfect economical ratio of quality and quantity meet and are synchronized. "Law of Vertical Farming" 😁

  • Electric cars that are driverless can run all day and night. What do you do with all those parking garages underground?
    Food production.

  • I love your vision, passion, and effort, Stuart! Thank you for the information! I am watching your talk twice in a row and will be looking into your work more. About your name, I've heard things about one's name being predictive or determinative, and I can understand how that could be so, but I wonder if maybe your interest in agriculture is also because thinking about and working in agriculture is still really important (as you outlined so well) and your name is reflective of work that your ancestor was doing at the time when last names became a thing, farming being a pretty common occupation for the last 12,000 years. Just a thought.

  • imagine AI and robotics combined with aquaponic vertical farms and algae wall segments that provide energy and food for the mini ecosystem in the pond system

  • Imagine a restaraunt that grows all of it's own produce. Selecting traits that changes the flavor profile to complement their cuisine perfectly creating a unique experience for their customers.

  • In 'My Future World' every office block full of pen-pushing papiermache brains is a vertical farm, with fish and shrooms in the basement, free range chickens on the top few levels and roof, with fruit, nuts, veg and bees in between… so many eggs, so much honey… The fish waste water and chicken crap and waste biomass provides organic fertilising water… the plants and the growing substrate filter the water back to the fish….. You can even pump in tons of CO2 if you like, THE GREENERY WILL LOVE IT!….. Climate Phobes….

    Every city, let alone nation should strive for FOOD INDEPENDENCE….

  • Today's under-utilized urban infrastructure (which you continue to stress as a positive) 7:48 will not exist in 2050. According to your numbers 0:37, the projected global population in 2050 is 9.8 bn with 68% of that population living in cities. The cost of verticle 'urban' farming (rental or ownership of buildings) will be too expensive in 2050 if it's forced to compete with the cost of housing for a growing population. Not only is the population going to increase but there will also be an increase (from 55% to 68%) in the percentage of the population moving to cities and competing for urban infrastructure.

  • I have a external hydroponics system and my wife and I are looking to do this enclosed system at home on small scale

  • Oh My God .. Humans will amaze me forever .. Growing food in containers with nothing natural .. We're thinking with our feet ..

  • Yea but we already have a solution, Hollywood producers are very smart, we have an idea, why dont we just start the purge

  • Why just not to use sunlight, greenhouses? We were doing it successfully for ages. And, yes, you can use hydroponics, recirculating water there and even make it look cool.

  • This is an all to common manipulation of statistics, first pose the problem in light of all agricultural production, then pose a solution that addresses less than 1% of agricultural production (fresh greens and a few fruit crops). It will have a very limited impact. Plus food produced with no soil, no sun, no stress, and no humans is not something I would personally like to eat.

  • The Samsung lm301h does 230 lpw, while Cree hit 303 lpw back a few years ago (1watt 25C neuteral white) , but never made a high powered led over 202 before they sold the lighting part of the company. 340 is the theoretical maximum efficiency. We will need these 303 lpw LEDs to avoid a cooling nightmare in the depicted setup!! Breaking 200 lpw is the tipping point where the heat sink requirements go down exponentially. Heat sinks are a nightmare. Without hearsink, efficiency and led life beyond a few hundred hours is impossible. These lights need cheap power. Solar and wind are not enough. Fusion, ITER, is a pipe dream and a monopoly. Solar and wind help democratize, but won't ever be enough for our needs. Hydroelectric has a 80 time return on investment, solar only 7. Thorium is 2000 times return on investment. 4th generation of fusion, safe, is the answer. While there is 100,000 year supply of thorium, 2 years ago a cheap way was found for getting a. Unlimited supply of uranium out of sea water. Whether liquid molten salt cooling, or liquid lead, or the safe bead system, this is the best way to feed 10 billion people. This technology will save humanity when the current warm Holocene ends, which it is overdue to end. Getting off fossil fuels is a great ruse to make the conversion to cheap thorium, which can provide unlimited energy for a third the cost of coal. The USA dollar being propped up by oil is the biggest impediment. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QRXG5JEFPr7C279rfaOAOWznY-JYcZ5l7PYZKM3cxL4/edit?usp=drivesdk

  • I thought it was amazing what they're doing with these farms as part of Israel's exhibition at the 2015 Milan EXPO; now we have the means to seriously implement this amazing technology worldwide. There may be hope for the future guys 🙂

  • I understand saving money and I like everything else in the presentation… But the robotics bit didn't sound so good. Sure, save money….but what about jobs? There's a huge lack there of.

  • It all sounds very fancy and this may be the future but honestly he has only shown pictures of salad. I wonder how this can be possible with veg like cauliflower, artichoke, pineapple and so on. Not to mention all the things that grow underneath the soil (potatoes, …). Last but not least would you be happy to see instead of actual fields container-fields?

  • nothing can replace the sun light, and nothing can replace the nature, the earth, so save the earth dont contaminate it, then everyone will have something to eat.

  • I am not sure if it is a obstacle or not but I would think that it would eventually be moved into peoples homes. I have an attic and basement that are not used that much and if the growing was pretty much automated, I would think that many would move the farm into their homes.

  • the problem is the generation of electricity on a large scale to generate lighting that is inferior to sunlight compared to plants receiving sunlight directly, which is why many cannabis growers use the greenhouse method. Now other factors such as soil creation and enviroment control are really the useful takeaway, these methods combined with organic and permaculture techniques are going to be the future.

  • Climate change is highly related to food and agriculture it isnt cars burning coal causing these issues its our need to eat and drink yes they play a big role but no where near half or even 1-4th of the current problem

  • Incorrect. we dump more food than quoted. Farmers can't sell carrots because they are bent or too big; cabbages too small or big etc. The major issue is trace elements in our food – the lack of which causes dis-ease in living organisms. Carbon dioxide: a doubling of atmospheric levels of Carbon dioxide when growing wheat, increases yields by 50%.

  • I would like to know whether anyone can use the technologies developed for vertical farming without any patent restriction? If patents are going to play a significant role in vertical farming, greedy corporates will start controlling the price of food similar to medicine prices. It will be a real danger if the Governments are not taking proper steps to regulate this system to provide open access and compatibility of the tools developed by various companies.

  • This might be a silly question, but if we grow our plant food inside, won’t that mean a loss of oxygen being released back into the atmosphere, leading to greater imbalance of gases in the atmosphere?

  • If someone shows me a comprehensive land and resource use for these farms, I might be able to take the claims more serious. For now I am not convinced this is that sustainable, compared with innovative market gardening practices.

  • Yes. Didn’t need to watch video. Hopefully my click + comment helped get the dumb dumbs informed. Thank me in the multiverse.

  • This is really interesting he mentioning his last name because "oda" means chamber in turkish and it is an indoor space.

  • The taste of some of these "Hot House" style veggies is poor. For instance most tomatoes now are just flat tasting. But chefs hide this with salts and spices. Some cucumbers are the same as well. The quality is declining and have you noticed (across the US I noticed) that small flys and knats are increasing in the supermarket produce section. So as exciting as this talk is I am hoping some of these issues can be addressed

  • Building into the ground like a basement is natural block from any weather and using geothermal heating would cut down on the need for insulation
    Having a greenhouse roofing could be utilized in certain areas instead of relying on just LED lighting
    Rain water collection using black tubing and rain bins, keep water warm in cool climates and colder climates can use solar powered heating and water treatment system would be needed for water collection and distribution which could also b powered solar or geothermal energy
    These can be done on small and large scale projects

  • Bro seriously.. indoor vertical farms, then worry about energy and sunlight? How about OUTDOOR vertical farms. 🤦🏽‍♂️

  • not a good start when at the very beginning and statement he is already not considering the impact of animal agriculture 🙁

  • Only 600 million get sick from food a year? I feel I get sick from food nearly every year. Ride sharing took cars OFF the road!? I know Ted Talks have a lotta BS in them, but this guy seems really dumb

    Also, small rice field doesn't literally mean small farm

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