Vertical Farming Can Bring Sustainability and Steadiness to the Supply Chain

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Vertical Farming Can Bring Sustainability and Steadiness to the Supply Chain_v2

As we explained in this previous post, vertical farming is a farming technique where crops are grown indoors in a laboratory-like, climate-controlled space. Instead of a crop being limited to geographical regions that provide the ideal growing conditions, vertical farmers can fine-tune the level of water, nutrients, humidity and temperature, as well as light frequency, duration and intensity to create the most ideal environment possible for the crop to grow.

A handful of rural conventional farms are the mega-producers that supply vast swathes of the country with fruits and vegetables, generally located far away from the urban and suburban areas where their crops are shipped to be made available to consumers. The shipping journey — often spanning thousands of miles of highway or open ocean — leads to large amounts of waste and product loss, in addition to creating a large carbon footprint. 

The lack of flexibility in conventional farming practices was made evident when the COVID-19 pandemic caused panic buying, restaurant order cancellations en masse and labor shortages. 

But vertical farming could shake up the status quo by allowing producers to grow crops in the same neighborhoods they serve.

Reduce spoilage by growing exotic crops locally

Research shows that light, heat, storage time and handling can reduce the amount of nutrients in vegetables. Conventional farms pick crops well before they’re ripe so they can survive the long journey to the supermarket, but a large portion of those crops are damaged in the shipping process, creating huge amounts of food waste.

Vertically farmed crops last longer than conventional crops because:

  • Crops have a longer shelf life due to perfect growing conditions (no excess sun or heat damage).
  • Drastically reduced shipment duration means ripe crops can be picked and shipped to market the same day or transferred to on-site cold storage.
  • Shorter shipping time and distance reduces handling and storage time.

Sustenir, a vertical farming company based in Singapore (which imports 92% of its vegetables) has started producing cold-weather produce like kale and strawberries for consumers on the humid, tropical island city-state. The company even guarantees its produce for up to two weeks in their refrigerators, because there is so little time between being harvested and stocked in local markets. 



Vertical farms provide flexibility in a rigid supply chain

Conventional mega-producers simply don’t have the ability to quickly pivot in response to supply chain interruptions. When COVID-19 lockdowns were announced last March, panic-buying cleaned out grocery store shelves and restaurants forced to close canceled orders from suppliers, all at once. This led to a shortage of products available for the consumers that needed them, while crops originally bound for restaurants sat in boxes and rotted.

The nature of vertical farms sets them up to be locally connected producers, so it’s much easier for vertical farmers to communicate with vendors and respond in real-time to demand changes in the markets they serve. Outside of pandemic times, vertical farms can grow popular crops as they go out of season, while having the ability to quickly produce much-needed produce if there is an unexpected shortage from mass producers, like we saw in the spring of 2020.

Improving food security with vertical farms

Vertical farming technology also has the potential to greatly increase food security, especially in countries like Singapore, who import most of their produce, as well as in urban food deserts, where residents don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

An ideal scenario for food security would be a network of vertical farms that serve individual, hyper-local markets, mostly replacing the mega-producers that ship nationwide

Droughts, torrential rains and other weather events don’t pose a threat to vertical farms, unlike conventional farms, which can have an entire year’s worth of crops destroyed in an adverse weather event.

Conventional farms usually grow a single crop, often non-native and sometimes outside the ideal growing area. These farms use massive amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides in order to create better conditions for their crops. Vertical farms could step in to grow these non-native crops, freeing up conventional farms to grow the produce that’s most suitable for each particular location while massively reducing water usage and runoff.

Downsides to vertical farming

I’ll admit, this blog post makes vertical farming sound like the miracle food production breakthrough of the 21st century, but there are still hurdles to overcome for vertical farms to become major players in the agricultural market:

  • Energy intensive — The LED lighting and HVAC systems used to create the perfect conditions in vertical farming use a lot of electricity and will run up a significant power bill.
  • Not quite carbon neutral — The carbon footprint associated with shipping and packaging foods across the globe is reduced by vertical farming methods, but the power required to operate the indoor facilities is still significant.
  • High cost of entry — It’s not as cheap as planting seeds in the ground. Considering the cost of vertical farming equipment and warehouse space, the initial investment required could be in the millions, depending on a facility’s size.
  • Backup power is mandatory — Vertical farms rely on the power grid to keep their plants fed, watered and lit. If a facility doesn’t have backup generators to fall back on during a power outage, it will be impossible to maintain ideal growing conditions and could lead to large amounts of crop loss.

These are important considerations that may slow widespread adoption of the practice, but it’s benefits can’t be ignored. While cost is still a considerable factor in vertical farming, there’s no denying that it’s a growing technology with a promising future.

If you would like to learn more about starting a vertical farm, email me at kwarzynski@stellar.net.

 

Vertical Farming Could Bring the Farm to Your Block

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Vertical farming is a soilless method of farming that takes place inside a climate-controlled, laboratory-like environment. Farmers are able to fine-tune indoor spaces to the crops they want to grow, instead of being limited to growing crops that a particular outdoor area can support. 

The ability to grow in-demand produce without the massive footprint of an outdoor farm, regardless of climate, has led to more vertical farming facilities in urban areas, where produce is grown, harvested and quickly shipped to retailers in the same city. This cuts down on product loss and shipping damage while increasing the shelf life and quality of produce once it hits the shelves.

 

Keeping Cyclospora at Bay in Your Food Processing Plant

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Keeping Cyclospora at Bay in Your Food Processing Plant

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked contaminated salad kits to a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora that infected more than 700 people. In 2019, the culprit was contaminated fresh basil, triggering a recall by the exporting company.

But how do outbreaks like this happen? Knowing how to prevent Cyclospora from entering your food plant is critical for maintaining the safety of your products and the trust of your customers, especially during a time of heightened awareness surrounding sanitation and public health.

 

Proper Air Balance is Critical to Employee Wellbeing and Food Safety

Food safety series

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Proper Air Balance is Critical to Employee Wellbeing and Food Safety

Proper air balance in a food plant is required to maintain the environmental parameters that keep the space food-safe, including temperature, humidity and the frequency of air replacement. Additionally, the direction of airflow is important, especially when dealing with raw animal products.

Now, in the post-pandemic world, clean, fresh air is more valuable than ever. As the world gets back to work, it’s important to examine your facility’s air system to ensure it’s up to par to keep workers and consumers safe.

 

4 Ways to Reduce COVID-19 Risk in Your Facility

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Now that COVID-19 is a risk encountered in everyday life, food plant owners and operators are looking for ways to protect their staff and facilities that are cost-effective and don’t hinder productivity.

As scientific authorities continue to nail down exactly how COVID-19 is spread, the overwhelming evidence suggests the virus primarily travels and is transmitted through droplets in the air. That’s why shielding your facility from an outbreak starts with its HVAC and refrigeration systems.

 

3 Must-have PSM Elements to Prevent Dust Explosions and Other Disasters

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3 Must-have PSM Elements to Prevent Dust Explosions and Other Disasters

Process Safety Management (PSM) is the OSHA standard that mandates employers identify, evaluate and control potentially hazardous activities, chemicals and components used in their processes.

While PSM audits are performed every three years, you should periodically perform self-audits to protect your facility from punitive measures from OSHA and, more importantly, to protect your employees from potentially catastrophic events that could lead to loss of life or property.

However, this isn’t a guide on performing self-audits (you can read more on that here).

Instead, we’re going to walk through a few PSM elements that you should pay special attention to while performing self-audits.

 

Protect Your Food Processing Facility from Dust Explosions

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The Imperial Sugar dust explosion of 2008 was a tragic reminder of the potential for common food processing ingredients to cause unneeded loss of life and property in a food plant. 

While it’s not feasible to ditch dusty ingredients like sugar, flour and cornstarch in most food processes, you should be aware of the danger particular ingredients create and formulate a plan to keep your workers and plant safe.

 

Considering the Plant-Based Protein Market? Process This First.

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How to Capitalize on the Demand for Plant-based Foods

The plant-based foods category is diversifying as retail sales have continued to increase, even during the COVID-19 outbreakAccording to Euromonitor, the meat-substitute market is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2023.

Such impressive numbers may have you wondering if you should try the tofu and look into entering this emerging market. Let’s lean on the “know before you go” adage and help you make an informed decision.

 

IIoT Tech Could Free Up Your Facility for Essential Workers

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IIoT Tech Could Free Up Your Facility for Essential Workers

As the coronavirus pandemic rocked the world early this year and its scope was realized in the United States, food plant operators had to adapt quickly to meet new federal and local orders that mandated social distancing. At the same time, producers saw restaurant demand plummet while retail and online grocery store market shares skyrocketed. As unpaid orders originally bound for restaurants rotted in storage, retailers had trouble keeping milk and eggs on the shelf.

This dramatic shake-up has forced food plant operators to reorganize equipment, production lines and workers to maintain safe social distancing, especially in the wake of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks among food plant employees.

Additionally, the wild fluctuations the supply chain experienced exposed vulnerabilities created by the communication lag between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology has the potential to solve some of these COVID-19-related problems and revolutionize the future of the food processing industry. 

 

Hurricane Season 2020: Staying Safe During the ‘New Normal’

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Hurricane Season 2020: Staying Safe During the ‘New Normal’

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted a 60% chance of an above-normal season this year, with 13 to 19 named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 39 mph), six to ten hurricanes (category 1 or higher with winds of at least 74 mph) and three to six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher with winds of 111 mph or higher).  

The average season produces 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. This year’s hurricane season already set a record for the earliest fifth named storm ever when Tropical Storm Edouard formed almost two months earlier than the average fifth named storm.

While we have all been preoccupied trying to stay out of the path of the global pandemic, that doesn’t mean we should put off planning for a major storm that could threaten your food or beverage facility’s operation. In fact, COVID-19 is going to present an entirely new dynamic to hurricane preparedness and evacuation plans as people try to uphold social distancing.