Agriculture Science Fair Project
Multi-Level Farming to Increase Crop Yield

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Project Information
Title: Vertical Multi-Level Farming to Increase Crop Yield
Subject: Botany / Agriculture
Grade level: Middle School - Grades 7-9
Academic Level: Ordinary
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: Low
Awards: Google Science Fair Finalist
Affiliation: Google Science Fair
Year: 2012
Description: How to increase traditional farming’s crop yield by low cost multi level farming with minimal effect on plants’ growth due to variable amount of sunlight? The plants’ growth depends on the amount of sunlight they receive. The first problem that arises when thinking about multilevel farming is that the plants will not get proper sunlight and hence not grow evenly. Although artificial light can be used as a substitute for sunlight but the cost will be high. There have been suggestions for using hydroponics with LEDs (for artificial light) in multi level farming but the same problem persists – high energy requirements and cost. Most proposed designs are focusing on urban areas but the need for multi level farming is more in rural areas of developing countries like India where farmers have small fields and thus low yield. To solve these problems, I have developed a design for a multi-level farm that is low cost, affordable by small farmers and can be easily made in the existing fields since it only uses materials abundant in rural areas and available cheaply like bamboo, ropes etc.

Vertical Farming

Vertical farming is cultivating plant or animal life within a skyscraper greenhouse or on vertically inclined surfaces. The idea of a vertical farm has existed at least since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The modern idea of vertical farming uses techniques similar to glass houses, where natural sunlight can be augmented with artificial lighting.

Some argue that vertical farming is legitimate for environmental reasons. He claims that the cultivation of plant and animal life within skyscrapers will produce less embedded energy and toxicity than plant and animal life produced on natural landscapes. He moreover claims that natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production, despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the simple purpose of agricultural production.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one of the wonders that may have been purely legendary. No definitive archaeological evidence concerning its whereabouts has been found. Ancient writers describe the possible use of something similar to an Archimedes screw as a process of irrigating the terraced gardens. Estimates based on descriptions of the gardens in ancient sources say the Hanging Gardens would have required a minimum amount of 8,200 gallons (37,000 litres) of water per day.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, close to 80% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the total population of the world will increase by 3 billion people. A very large amount of land may be required depending on the change in yield per hectare. Scientists are concerned that this large amount of required farmland will not be available and that severe damage to the earth will be caused by the added farmland. Vertical farms, if designed properly, may eliminate the need to create additional farmland and help create a cleaner environment.

Unlike traditional farming in non-tropical areas, indoor farming can produce crops year-round. All-season farming multiplies the productivity of the farmed surface by a factor of 4 to 6 depending on the crop. With some crops, such as strawberries, the factor may be as high as 30.

Crops grown in traditional outdoor farming suffer from the often suboptimal, and sometimes extreme, nature of geological and meteorological events such as undesirable temperatures or rainfall amounts, monsoons, hailstorms, tornadoes, flooding, wildfires, and severe droughts. The protection of crops from weather is increasingly important as global climate change occurs. Three recent floods (in 1993, 2007 and 2008) cost the United States billions of dollars in lost crops, with even more devastating losses in topsoil. Changes in rain patterns and temperature could diminish India’s agricultural output by 30 percent by the end of the century.

The controlled growing environment reduces the need for pesticides, namely herbicides and fungicides. Advocates claim that producing organic crops in vertical farms is practical and the most likely production.

Withdrawing human activity from large areas of the Earth's land surface may be necessary to slow and eventually halt the current anthropogenic mass extinction of land animals.

Traditional farming is a hazardous occupation with particular risks that often take their toll on the health of human laborers. Such risks include: exposure to infectious diseases such as malaria and schistosomes, exposure to toxic chemicals commonly used as pesticides and fungicides, confrontations with dangerous wildlife such as venomous snakes, and the severe injuries that can occur when using large industrial farming equipment. Whereas the traditional farming environment inevitably contains these risks, vertical farming – because the environment is strictly controlled and predictable – reduces some of these dangers.

Vertical farms could exploit methane digesters to generate a small portion of its own electrical needs. Methane digesters could be built on site to transform the organic waste generated at the farm into biogas which is generally composed of 65% methane along with other gases. This biogas could then be burned to generate electricity for the greenhouse.

Opponents question the potential profitability of vertical farming. The extra cost of lighting, heating, and powering may negate any of the cost benefits received by the decrease in transportation expenses. The economic and environmental benefits of vertical farming rest partly on the concept of minimizing food miles, the distance that food travels from farm to consumer.

During the growing season, the sun shines on a vertical surface at an extreme angle such that much less light is available to crops than when they are planted on flat land. Therefore, supplemental light, would be required in order to obtain economically viable yields. Some believe that the power demands of vertical farming will be too expensive and uncompetitive with traditional farms using only free natural light.

See also: Vertical Farming

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License)

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