Indoor vertical farming is at the forefront of agricultural innovation, good optimization of space, year-round cultivation, and fewer pests. Key to this system is single-use plugs and substrate, essential for seed germination and plant growth. However, these come with significant environmental and economic drawbacks.
Single-use plugs, often made from peat, coir, or foam, maintain ideal moisture levels and a stable environment for root development. However, these materials are discarded after each crop cycle, contributing to waste and requiring constant replenishment. Peat-based plugs also have an environmental cost due to habitat destruction and carbon emissions linked to peat extraction.
Vertical farming substitutes provide a medium for plant growth, but many users in indoor farms, like rock wool, are non-renewable and have high energy inputs for their production. In addition, after use, rock wool doesn’t decompose readily, leading to landfill accumulation. Other substrates, like coir and peat, contribute to environmental issues due to deforestation and habitat destruction.
According to Marcus Comaschi, CEO & co-founder of Gyroplant, the constant need for purchasing, disposing, and replacing single-use substrates and plugs significantly increase operational expenditure, adding to environmental waste.
However, the use of multi-use plugs may reduce waste and associated costs. These plugs, reusable over multiple crop cycles, could alleviate waste and expenses related to procuring new plugs. Yet, multi-use plugs increase the risk of disease and pest infestation if not adequately cleaned and sterilized between uses, potentially adding complexity and cost to farming operations.
An advanced form of hydroponics, Gelponics, uses a hydrogel matrix as the growing medium for plants. It’s incredibly efficient in resource utilization but has challenges, including the cost and environmental impact of hydrogel production.
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Image provided by Gyroplant