The world population is growing by approximately one percent each year, and feeding the swelling numbers is problematic and will become more so in the future with climate change and water scarcity driving the dilemma.  According to the UN World Water Development Report 2021: Valuing Water, approximately 4 billion people “live in areas that suffer from severe physical water scarcity for at least one month per year.”[1]  Finding ways to conserve water has become imperative worldwide, especially for industries that consume vast quantities.  One single solution will not solve the issue; numerous and varied models are being investigated across most industries.  Pressure is intensifying for the agricultural industry to find solutions as it accounts for nearly 70% of freshwater withdrawals worldwide. Farmers are using a myriad of methods to both save water and cope with scarcity; one idea that is gaining traction is vertical farming.

As indicated by the name, vertical farming grows plants stacked vertically allowing farmers to grow more food in an area than when planted traditionally.  This method often uses indoor spaces and manipulates many components of production, including climate, lighting, and nutrient delivery systems. Vertical farms often employ hydroponic systems which use nutrient solutions instead of soil for the root systems. Undoubtedly, the most compelling benefit of this farming method is the reduced quantity of water and land consumed, reportedly using ten percent of the water used in conventional farming.[2]  Fewer fertilizers and pesticides are required which means fewer chemicals reach the water supply. Although not effective in producing crops in the vast quantities of traditional large-scale farming, vertical farms provide consistency in production and can operate in most locations and climes.  Due to the reduced space requirement, these farms can be located closer to points of distribution, lessening the need for transport, thereby cutting carbon emissions.

Not all are proponents of vertical farming.  Although the practice touts reduced labor and transportation costs, there are often high costs at the onset of an initiative, especially if land is acquired in urban areas.  The type of lighting and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology can also increase both monetary and environmental costs.  Furthermore, these farms are often technology-reliant, and a disruption in service can quickly and adversely affect a crop.  Lastly, many crops cannot be grown in such a manner, such as corn or wheat.

Over 2,300 farms are growing crops using hydroponics, and although a small percentage of the country’s total farming industry output, the lure of these farms is growing steadily as investors are buying into the idea.[3]  If the industry overcomes the obstacles, especially related to environmental concerns and startup costs, this approach to farming goes far in providing an effectual coping mechanism for the dual issues of food production and water scarcity.


[1] UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme. “The United Nations World Water Development Report 2021: Valuing Water.”,

[2] Miller, Susan. “Various Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydroponics.” Conserve Energy Future, 28 July 2020,

[3] Severson, Kim. “No Soil. No Growing Seasons. Just Add Water and Technology.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 July 2021,