In the fight for global food security, vertical farmers—known for growing herbs and salads indoors—have achieved a breakthrough by producing wheat in the same controlled atmosphere.
Infarm, an Amsterdam-based firm, used significantly less water than traditional farming methods to grow wheat without the use of soil or chemical pesticides. A significant milestone for a young business that has drawn venture capital funding on the promise that its technology can help feed the world has been reached by the first indoor farming company to grow a staple crop.
To continue to feed the world’s growing population, we need to achieve higher crop yields which we have now proven to be possible for wheat, said Guy Galonska, chief technology officer and the co-founder of Infarm. We are confident that wheat can be grown successfully at scale indoors as a climate-resilient alternative.
Up until now, indoor farming has produced luxury meals like herbs, salads, and occasional fruit. They have also come under fire for their comparatively high production costs, energy consumption, and scalability.
Growing a staple crop inside has the potential to revolutionize the game if done at scale. Climate change and logistical problems have made supplies more scarce, and the war in Ukraine has drawn awareness on how dependent the globe is on a small number of breadbaskets. Therefore, having alternate crop sources could serve as a safety net in case there are ever again supply problems.
According to Infarm, preliminary tests indicate that each hectare may produce 117 tons of wheat annually.
According to predictions from the US Department of Agriculture, the European Union and the US, two of the largest exporters in the world, would yield an average of 5.6 tons per hectare and 3.1 tons, respectively, in 2022.
According to Pádraic Flood, team head for crop genetics at Infarm, the company was able to produce those exceptional yields by using six growing cycles every year, as opposed to just one conventional open-field farming. Indoor plants thrive in the absence of stress or disease when provided with the proper levels of light, humidity, temperature, and nutrients, he claimed.
But in actuality, the obstacles are still very great.
To compete in commodities markets, it will be essential to achieve scale and keep costs low. However, the availability of energy to power indoor farms raises serious concerns that could lead to new vulnerabilities.
The staple will also need a lot of area to be produced. More land than any other crop is needed to grow wheat, which requires more than 216 million hectares. It would take more indoor farms than France’s wheat-growing region to produce enough food to meet current demand at Infarm’s estimated yields.
Infarm, which is co-hosting a food systems pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh this month, stated that greater technology may allow it to increase its yield by an additional 50% in the future.