The Rise of Vertical Farming and Hydroponics

Published on 20 Dec, 2022

Increasing demand for food, coupled with decreasing farmlands and fertile soils, has led to the emergence of alternative forms of farming, such as vertical farming, to boost food production. Countries that have long struggled with domestic production and supply constraints due to the lack of natural resources and favorable climatic conditions are implementing these technologies to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Paucity of farming land, scarcity of good quality soil, and rising demand for food have led to the evolution of new techniques such as vertical farming, which is slowly gaining acceptance across countries. Vertical farming entails growing food in stacks or layers to optimize space. Its advantages include reliable year-round crop production unaffected by weather conditions, better use of space, and minimal water and pesticide usage.

Vertical farming can be adopted in various types of growing environments: Indoor farming is growing plants and crops indoors via hydroponics and artificial light. In comparison to traditional farming, this method uses less water, prevents pests and diseases, and enables organic food production. Greenhouse farming entails growing crops in a sheltered space to provide favorable growing conditions and protect crops from severe weather and pests. Container farming is an innovative method of indoor farming that uses shipping containers as a substitute for traditional farmlands. The benefits of placing a farm within a container are that it is transportable and can be squeezed into existing spaces.

Vertical farming can be carried out using three soil-free techniques.

1. Hydroponics uses mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil.

2. Aeroponics uses air as a carrier and mist or nutrient solutions instead of water.

3. Aquaponics relies on a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants to grow crops.

Hydroponic farming involves the cultivation of crops in nutrient-rich water with or without the support of other media such as sand or gravel. Depending on the crop, water is enriched with nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, calcium, and potassium. The hydroponics farming market is projected to expand at a CAGR of 11.3% from USD9.5 billion to USD17.9 billion in 2026.

Vertical farming can be used to grow crops such as follows:

  • Lettuce – These crops have consistent demand worldwide and are available in different varieties.
  • Chard and collard green – These crops can be harvested multiple times a year and are therefore profitable.
  • Strawberries – Though strawberries are seasonal, with the aid of sheltered and climate-controlled farming, they can be grown at any time of the year.
  • Herbs – Many vertical farmers choose easy-to-harvest herbs, such as chives and mint, as they are low maintenance and can be harvested multiple times. Basil can also be grown with vertical farming. Since it has global demand, it is a profitable crop as well.

Other benefits of hydroponics and vertical farming are as follows:

  • Optimal space utilization – Hydroponics combined with vertical farming can use 99% less land than traditional farming techniques, mainly because the roots do not spread far to search for nutrients and water.
  • Water conservation – Due to concentrated use of water, hydroponics uses comparatively less water than land farming. Moreover, the plants use only 0.1% of the water in which they are placed, and the rest goes back to the environment through evapotranspiration. Traditional farming is one of the largest consumers of water worldwide, and most of it is wasted due to poor irrigation, evaporation, and water mismanagement. Vertical farming enables efficient use of water, i.e., up to 95% less water compared to traditional farming methods.
  • Increased yields – These technologies require an insulated environment and greenhouse structures. This allows to create a microclimate and temperature-controlled facilities. The crops are shielded from insects or pests and untimely rain or frost. Furthermore, as an optimal climate is created, any crop can be grown at any time of the year. This leads to higher crop yield.
  • Less labor – These farming techniques are carried out in fully equipped greenhouses and require much less labor compared to field farming.
  • Supply chain reduction – Since these farming systems can be set up anywhere, the supply chain is largely reduced. This cuts down on transport and warehouse cost. Furthermore, customers can get access to fresher produce.

UAE – A pioneer in adoption

Vertical farming and hydroponics might be the only solution for water-stressed and arid regions such as the UAE. Currently, the Emirates imports 90% of the food it consumes. However, it started hydroponic vertical farms in 2020 and is working toward becoming self-sufficient and growing its own food, as part of the Food Security Strategy 2051. Through this strategy, the UAE aims to rank among the top countries in the Global Food Security Index by 2051. The initiative would also help create a robust national system that employs modern technologies for sustainable food production.

COVID helped promote vertical farming and hydroponics initiatives in the UAE. Imports were impacted due to the pandemic, which highlighted the risk of buying all food items from other countries. With the government encouraging agritech solutions, there is considerable support for such initiatives. Some of the startups in this sector are as follows:

  • Badia Farms – The company supplies high-quality microgreens and herbs to Dubai's top restaurants.
  • Red Sea Farms – It is an agriculture technology company that uses salt water for commercial farming.
  • EDAMA Organic Solutions – A sustainable option, the company recycles organic waste into innovative agricultural products.
  • Smart Acres – It is an indoor vertical hydroponics farm in Abu Dhabi that grows 13 cycles of lettuce in a year.

Other regions

Singapore is also focusing on domestic food production, and the city-state's sovereign fund Temasek has invested nearly USD5 billion to back startups in alt-proteins, ag biotech, and vertical farming. The country is harnessing technologies including hydroponics and vertical farming to overcome land and water constraints as well as combat climate change.

Other countries that have successfully increased their per annum yield via hydroponic farming are Japan, India, the US, and UK.


While there are many benefits of agritech solutions such as vertical farming and hydroponics, there are also challenges limiting their adoption:

  • The biggest issue in establishing these initiatives are the high initial cost and long payback period.
  • Since all plants have the same nutrient reservoir in hydroponics, diseases and pests can spread rapidly.
  • Electricity cost is high as plants are grown in a temperature-controlled environment. Backup power is needed in case of outages.
  • Certain large and tall crops are not suitable for indoor farming.


The food ecosystem is evolving as new technologies and ideas make an impact on the industry. Though demand for food is growing, consumers also prefer environmentally friendly, sustainable processes. Moreover, the pandemic has exposed supply chain vulnerabilities, emphasizing the necessity of a more compact and integrated supply chain.

Hydroponics and vertical farming technologies can be a feasible solution and fulfill the above-mentioned requirements. Companies such as CambridgeHOK provide fully automated vertical farming solutions that advise on climate control, engineering, automation, and efficient energy provision. Canadian startup Inno-3B provides fully automated, scalable, controlled, and monitored robotic growing systems. It also offers real-time support and can help grow organic produce, herbs, and berries locally. Many other companies are also investing in vertical farming solutions due to their vast potential.

However, the industry is still at a nascent stage and needs more acceptance for wide-scale adoption.