The Madness of Vertical Agriculture (2)

Vertical farming, and thus “indoors,” is a form of enormous technocratic hubris, which costs more than it yields. I wrote about it before, that trying to beat nature, millions of years of evolution, is complete madness.[1] Growing crops via natural selection/cropcrossings and maybe indoors ( unheated greenhouses),with yields accelerated thus by man as a factor of nature – it can be done. Whether that is better in the long run remains to be seen, with monocultures of highly productive crops, but it is nevertheless a form of natural selection. But trying to improve the yield by incorporating more intermediate steps (windmills, solar panels, buildings, infrastructure, lighting etc) is thermodynamically swearing in church, it is precisely the opposite: lowering the yield over the whole system: it can never become more like the land-sun induced yield.
But there are now some more data, and even from the industry itself. And they are even more dramatic as I already thought. Because that’s just the process itself, not all the downstream and upstream effects. [EROI-2] Anyway, here’s a little summary:

The production of 1 m2 of lettuce indoors, costs per month 76.55 kWh . Note: outside, on the land, it costs nothing. That is, direct solar energy, but no energy via a technological and therefore loss-making detour. ( in materials and energy for that) Anyway, inside you can produce longer. But then again, this is per m2 and per month, and that 76.5 kWh must be generated by wind or sun. For comparison:
1 m2 solar panel produces on average about 15 kWh per month ( in NL) . So per 1 m2 lettuce inside, 5 m2 solar panel is needed outside….
Strawberries then: per month per m2 124 kWh. Plus so 8 m2 outside …
And that is, I repeat again, excluding the huge impact (energy tax) of building itself and installations. Not to mention the production of solar panels. Etc etc etc.
And as said , the figures come from the industry itself [3].

Yes but, stacking ? No, because those figures are per m2. But then again, stacking seems efficient, more layers inside on top of each other: but a building that gets higher and higher, gives more and more shadow, takes away more and more sun surface outside: a bigger and bigger cast shadow, which then cannot be productive anymore. It’s lead for lead. [4]
Ok, one claims a higher yield per m2, but even a doubling compared to outside is not enough to compensate for the solar m2 outside.

Other figures show that even per kg of product it can’t beat it, as another publication shows, with a per kg comparison to greenhouse cultivation [5] :
vertical farms have a significantly higher average energy use at 38.8 kWh per kg of produce compared to traditional greenhouses, which average 5.4 kWh per kg. And again this is optinistic, because it excludes buildings, installations and solar panels’. And of course versus 0 kWh outside ( technical kWh…).
So forget it, especially when you know that not energy but materials cq raw materials are going to be our biggest problem. And so no wonder, if we are going to produce in a way that requires more and more materials for more and more in between cycle steps..
It cannot be effective either, because ultimately everything depends on the sun (-energy), and every extra link between the sun and the final product increases the losses. [6] ( and the use of already stored solar – energy, fossil, has only negative effects).
Of course, it could be that it is economically interesting: after all, with a small piece of land you can produce a lot, thanks to the effects shifted elsewhere, and not valued financially, (such as free resources mining) and shifting effects to far away, such as pollution. That is the schizophrenia in our money system, which leads us to believe that if you can make a profit from it it can also be sustainable.

But as stated earlier, if true sustainability cq sustainability would make money, we would have no problem at all.

Vertical agriculture, forget it, don’t “believe” in it! I don’t want to say that this makes lettuce a bullshit product, but it is nevertheless an example of “bullshit production…”.

[1] See also (2e part of) :

[2] eroi agriculture :





land capital:

and: Magazine Landscape (dutch) , 2020-2 land als apitaal

and the new book : Post fossiel Leven : (in dutch, later this year in English)

Author: ronald rovers