When dealing with indoor agriculture, cannabis or otherwise, space optimization and controlled environments are hugely important. When space is limited or the climate isn’t optimal for outdoor growth, vertical farming — where plants are stacked on top of each other in multiple grow levels — can be a game-changing solution.
According to Anders Peterson, Cannabis Operations Specialist at Pipp Horticulture, vertical farming was originally introduced in theory as a solution for wartime food crises and to feed dense urban areas on the East Coast.
Since then, it has evolved alongside the cannabis industry into a highly profitable system for cannabis cultivation by optimizing grow space and facilitating plant growth even in harsher climates.
Here’s what you need to know about vertical farming and how to choose the right indoor grow system to maximize your yield.
How Cannabis Drove Vertical Farming Innovation
Although vertical farming as a hypothetical concept has been around for at least a century — Gilbert Bailey is credited as having coined the phrase in his book of the same title — the necessary technology to make it feasible wasn’t readily available until very recently with the development of more efficient lights.
Older lighting systems emitted so much heat that they required a lot of space between the light fixture and the plants themselves. But LED lights — especially Fluence Bioengineering’s flat fixture that could be fitted underneath upper racks — allowed for close-proximity lighting without generating too much heat.
Although vertical farming was originally posed as a solution for growing food crops, most of its innovation actually came from cannabis cultivation, which carried enough value to make experimentation worthwhile.
“The high value and robustness of cannabis and its ability to withstand stress and still be brought to market allowed for mistakes to be made and a lot of rooms to be built,” Peterson says. As a result, lessons learned from cannabis vertical farming are now being applied to food crops around the world.
Considerations for Vertical Grows
Vertical farming is a great solution for many indoor cultivations, but it’s not for everyone, and it does come with its own challenges.
What Are the Challenges?
Transitioning from single-level to vertically stacked grows involves a learning curve. You’ll need to adjust not only the facility layout but also your cultivation techniques and mindset about the plants’ growth. While the plants themselves stay the same, you’ll need to take a different approach to factors like:
- Designing the facility’s airflow system
- Accounting for plant size and lifespan
- Managing plant height and canopy density
Despite the challenges, though, vertical farming can be a highly profitable solution for many cannabis cultivators.
When Is Vertical Farming Appropriate?
While vertical farming is a great option in many instances, Peterson notes a few exceptions. It may not be the right choice if you:
- Are price sensitive: On a “per square foot” basis, multi-tier grow rooms have higher construction costs compared to single-level grow rooms. However, the revenue generation per square foot of multi-tier rooms versus single-level rooms more than makes up for the higher construction costs.
- Have a lot of space: One of the biggest advantages of vertical farming is being able to grow more product in a smaller space. If you’re operating in an area with cheap construction costs and no limits on space, it may make more sense to build outward and stick to single-level growing instead.
- Also grow food crops: Right now, its simply not very profitable to grow most food crops indoors – whether vertically or not – except when certain factors such as geography, crop type, and market pressures align.
Outside of these exceptions, however, vertical farming is a great way to maximize yield and profit from your grow. It uses less square footage than single-level farming, which makes it perfect for dense urban areas with limited space, especially if the climate or local ordinances don’t allow for outdoor or greenhouse growing.
When you save space, you also save money. Peterson refers to this as fixed-cost absorption. “Your building has fixed costs associated with it,” he says, “and the more you can produce within those fixed costs, the more profitable or more amenable your cost of production is.”
What to Look for When Choosing a Vertical Solution
If you’re ready to make the switch to vertical farming, make sure you work with people who know what they’re doing and can help you set it up properly from the start. Choose a solution that offers:
- Expertise. There are a lot of nuances to vertical farming, from cultivation science to securing permits, that work differently from what you may be used to with single-level grows. You’ll want experienced professionals in your corner who can guide you every step of the way.
- Innovation. This is a fast-moving industry that is constantly evolving. Make sure the people you work with are keeping up with the latest developments.
- Durability. Avoid companies that cut corners when planning, designing, or building your vertical setup.
- Mobility. In general, implementing a mobile aisle in your vertical grow design helps optimize the space you use. Pipp Horticulture’s Mobile Vertical Racking system can be used in most locations and can be designed for use in both seismic and non-seismic areas as long as you have a level floor. If the floor conditions are a concern, you can talk to our engineers on what steps can be taken to bring the floor to a useable tolerance.
- Corporate Stability. So many companies have sprouted up in recent years to capitalize on the fast-growing cannabis industry, but they can disappear as soon as they arrive for a number of reasons. It’s important to select companies who have staying power – demonstrated through years of prior operation in and outside of the cannabis and horticulture spaces. You want to make sure the company you partner with will be there if or when things get tough.
When implemented properly, vertical farming has the potential to multiply your yield — so don’t leave it in inexperienced hands.
The Future of Indoor Agriculture
Thanks in large part to innovation driven by the cannabis industry, vertical farming has emerged as the future of indoor agriculture. Now is the time to get in on this cutting-edge development, especially if you have limited space to work with.
Ready to get the highest yield out of your grow space? Contact us today for a custom grow design.