So here we have two very different models. Sky Greens is as established as a company can hope to be in the vertical farm industry and is using a unique approach that has been at least successful enough to build 500 three-story high towers in less than two years. On the other hand, we have Panasonic’s new venture that relies on older, more traditional greenhouse technology.
There are positive and negative aspects to each model, but as competition for the local market presses these two companies against each other, those watching the vertical farming industry can hope to see even more cost effective innovation. Who knows, maybe each will develop their own niche vegetable markets specialized to produce the leafy green most suited to their specific growing methodology?
Either way, Singapore is a unique environment and what happens here is important.
Singapore has the second densest population in the world, as ranked by the World Bank, and all the sustainability problems associated with that density. Whereas fields and open space are almost always cheaper in land-rich countries like the United States, making vertical farming far from cost effective, “Singapore could be a special case, where land value is so exceptionally high, that you have no choice but to go vertically” says Gene Giacomelli, a plant scientist at the University of Arizona, who directs their the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center NPR reported.
Not only are the conditions right, but Singapore’s government is fully supportive of these ventures. The government recognizes that food security and sustainability goals are so much easier to reach with local production. Perishable, imported items like vegetables, which cannot be stored for long periods of time, are now grown with such proximity to the point of consumption that shipping becomes almost a non-factor (3 hours in Sky Greens’ case).
One of the most important critiques of vertical farming is that the systems are not compatible with fundamental food supply crops like grain and rice. While that is true, at least for now, for Singapore to just replace its perishable imports with local production will have an enormous impact on both its economy and its sustainability measures.
By seeing what works in a country that is so supportive and in need of vertical farming, others can replicate and build off of successful models instead of wasting time on what has already been shown to be less efficient.
We’ll be able to see if pushing new technologies like Sky Greens is the answer to the world’s hunger challenges (9 billion mouths to feed by 2050) or if we are already able to address them with tweaked versions of what we have like Panasonic. In a future post, I’ll examine how these two models fit into different thinkers’ visions of the future of farming.
Plus, each of these farms are doing really cool and innovative things for agriculture!