The cost of vertical farming is still competitive

The wheat of the future will grow in high-rise buildings

Vertical farming
Five harvests a year instead of one: that is what vertical agriculture promises. But there are problems.
A “vertical farm” in Moscow.

You have to know that

  • Growing food in halls conserves resources and is independent of the season and climate.
  • Theoretically, wheat yields could be increased many times over in such a tier system.
  • However, the energy consumption is very high, so that wheat grown in this way is currently not competitive.
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Skyscrapers full of lettuce, green cabbage, spinach, herbs - they already exist. In it, vegetables and fruits grow on top of each other in large halls. This cultivation method is called “vertical farming”. In contrast, staple foods such as wheat currently only grow horizontally. Vertical farming can, however, significantly increase the annual yield of agriculture. This is shown by a new study published in the specialist journal PNAS.

Science check ✓

Study: Wheat yield potential in controlled-environment vertical farmsCommentThis is a comment by the authorThe simulations use a theoretical value for the growth of wheat under optimal conditions that is more than twice as high as the highest ever recorded in the field. Whether this value can actually be achieved in a floor system in a building has not yet been proven experimentally. More information about this study ...Reliability: Peer-reviewedStudy type: Computer simulationFunders: Princeton Environmental Institute’s Urban Grand Challenge Grant and Arup University’s Global Research FundAll information about the higgs science check

American scientists calculated that in a ten-day facility on one hectare of land, up to 1,940 tons of wheat could be grown per year. That is around 600 times more than the global average in traditional agriculture.

This can be explained by the fact that the conditions in a plant are optimal: there is no limit to the amount of water and nutrients, the artificial sun shines all day, and the temperature is always the same. This enables five harvests per year instead of one.



Compared to traditional agriculture, it is possible to produce food all year round and regardless of the weather. The method also saves water and land - and it works practically without pesticides and herbicides.

In 2018, more than 50 different vegetable and fruit farms were already in operation, under construction or in the planning stage, as an overview study showed. Most of them are in Asia or North America, but there are also a few examples in Europe: Basel has also been growing vertically since this summer. The start-up Growcer produces salads on the Wolf site, which are sold at Migros Dreispitz.

The modern cultivation method has one major disadvantage: it is very expensive. The lettuce sold in Basel does not cover its production costs, as research by the SRF shows. Wheat grown in batches would also not be competitive at the moment. Electricity is particularly important for artificial lighting: this alone accounts for more than half of the annual costs. The vertical system cannot completely replace the traditional cultivation of wheat. However, according to the researchers, this could cushion climate-related crop failures, for example due to droughts.

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