@al_payi you are asking me the as yet unanswered question - that is why we are here doing the work to build out the economics by setting open standards for hardware and data sharing. It is near impossible for anyone at current time to answer that question definitively, even dare I say it, cornell
That being said here are some things to think about:
In the Short Term (IMHO and I love to be proved wrong)
Vert farming will not be economically viable for lettuce, culinary greens, eat fresh pick fresh vegetables (just google farmed here, podponics, verti-crop for starters bannnkkkrupppt)
Vert farming will be economically viable for pharmaceutical/nutraceutical natural derivatives, bio-active compounds (think cosmetics) and natural flavor derivatives (low volume, high margin)
Greenhouses are part of the control environment agriculture umbrella (just like vert farms) and are definitely going to play an increased roll in crops mentioned above
Full control environments (growth chambers like conviron and PFC) will be useful in the interim for research for greenhouse and vert farming experiments
Caleb you just broke my heart why dont vert farms work now?
Capital equipment cost per growing square foot is incredible high and people are scaling unproven systems MUCH MUCH too fast. When you scale fast your failures are trememdous
The actual growing square foot multiple (defined as the total number of growing square feet **minus **aisle ways, mechanical space, packaging, harvesting, etc / total square feet of building) is too low, believe it or not some of the facilities Ive seen with 6/8/10 layers which ostensibly seem to have a 6/8/10X multiple, once you do the math have a 1.2-1.6 multiple (1.6 being the best Ive ever seen in US/Japan/Europe)
Labor costs are too high ever wonder how most vert farms get harvested now-a-days? a laborer…on a cherry picker…insanity
Heating/Venting/Air Conditioning (HVAC) is a silent killer of vert farms ATM. People thinking its a wonderful idea to use an old warehouse, then realizing what they really needed was a heated and cooled data center - not a leaky warehouse. Its the number one operational energy expenditure for vert farming
Here is some moooore bad news for folks like us that want answers:
- “whats the energy cost in vert farming vs convention”…a seemingly simple question on its face but once you start playing the game of following the shrinking kilowatt you will quickly run into dead ends.
the energy equation of a piece of fruit in a grocery store is dynamic it changes wildly depending on what time of year it is, where in the world you are and what the piece of produce you picked up happens to be. In fact most grocery stores sell produce at a loss, you heard me right, they pretty much pay to give it away to get you into the center of the store to buy the higher margin items.
There is no easily accessible data on energy consumption along the dynamic chain that brought your produce to you.
*The seed, presticide, mineral etc companies arent reporting the energy used to create the commodity inputs
*The distributor of those commodies isnt reporting what energy they used to get it to the COOP/Farm
*The farmer isnt collecting and reporting energy used for tractors, pumps, irrigators, etc
*The cold chain distributed isnt reporting data on their refer-containers used to take the produce from the farm to the pack house
*The pack house isnt reporting data on energy use
*The distributor from the pack house isnt reporting data on energy use
*The Retailer isnt reporting data on energy use
*And I’ll bet you arent reporting data on the energy you used in the last mile of getting your food from the grocery store home (Car, refrigerator,etc) which can sometimes be the worst of them all
So then you might ask the question…with all this energy use in conventional farming…how does it all work economically?
- Enter SUBSIDIESSSSS Farming of any kind would not work without HUGGGGE subsidies (*Farm Bill in the US) and currently there are no subsidies being applied for vert farming…
All that being what it is…we still must try. There are smarter people than me working on aspects of this (*esp carbon footprinting) but I had a simple idea. Well if we have no access to the data of conventional farming and it is dynamic anyway… maybe we could create some metrics for vert farming (as I call it food computing) that are irrefutable and unbiased and this is what I came up with
KWH per Gram (of Product)
Liters (of water) per Gram
Labor per Gram
Amortized capital equipment per Gram
Then we can link those metrics to the gram value of the particular product. For example. about 4 years ago we ran some simple version of this where we calculated all the energy used in the food server 1.0 farm prototype at MIT (KWH) and multiplied it by the rate we pay for energy at MIT which is about 0.14 USD per KWH. Then we measured the total weight (Grams) of the harvest from one cycle of the same crop (buttercrunch lettuce). We divided the two to get the Total Price of Energy of all the grams of lettuce and then divided by the number of lettuces to get the price of energy for that particular lettuce. (Im writing this on a plane, I think that all makes sense, but you might need to interpolate and my fingers are getting tired). OK so what we found was it was abou 0.60 USD for the average 300 gram head of lettuce for all energy in (which in that case included HVAC, lights, pumps, etc). The cost at the supermarket (you have to be specific in supermarkets - there are value markets and quality markets - Im speaking of value driven markets *ie not whole foods ;)) for the same 300 gram head of lettuce was 2.19 USD. So on initial assestment (*of course omitting labor, equipment, water) we thought our energy use was actually not so bad. But then again, the economics of grocery produce are as I stated above, complicated.
I started watching the video you mentioned. I also started writing a litany of notes on his comments. Then I erased them because…well…I do not find a lot of his talk interesting/progressive/intriguing and I also was not finding my comments particularly in line with how I like to engage with science/invention/thinking/making and very similar to a lot of trolls in the youtube comments. So to his video I simply say…
“The horse is here to stay…the automobile is a fad”
and instead of dwelling on that video…Id encourage you to watch an old ted talk I recently dug up from Danny Hillis. Danny was one of the inventors of the internet, he made something impossible, possible. I respect people that can do that with rigor, passion and by suspending disbelief. A salient point that speaks directly to how I feel about vert farming, “We are the amoebas and we can’t quite figure out what the hell we are creating. I think that there really is something coming along after us. I think it is very haughty of us to think we are the end product of evolution. I think all of us here are part of producing whatever that next thing is”