Modular Farming: What is it and how does it help the environment?

Although a necessary part of society, agriculture when traditional has unfortunately had a threatening impact on the environment. Food production now accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally, with crop production alone standing at 27%. This coupled with the energy used to transport food across regions and countries and the use of fertilisers means that the pollution caused by this sector is a growing and concerning factor that needs to be addressed and fixed. With experts looking for alternative solutions to traditional agriculture methods, this has given rise to an alternative agriculture method called modular farming.

What is modular farming?

Modular farming was created from the movement of finding alternative methods of agriculture that are kinder to the environment. A cutting edge solution, modular farming is able to negate many of the negatives that come from traditional methods of farming. Essentially modular farming consists of using shipping containers to grow crops and food in. These can either be positioned next to each other, or if there is a lack of space, can also be stacked. Therefore it is not necessary to buy big plots of land to expand on horizontally when you can expand vertically! Flexible and self-contained, modular farming allows you to grow herbs and vegetables without the need for any soil or sunlight. Using this method makes it easier to grow food close to a highly populated city region and remote areas too, helping to reduce any gaps in the food industry and provide fresh produce, making it more accessible. It also removes or at the very least, minimises the losses from unpredictable factors including bad weather and pests; something which outdoor farmers have to take into consideration. Modular farming uses a method called hydroponics to create produce; this technique uses water to provide nutrients to plants instead of soil, which allows plants to grow even stronger and faster. Done by adding a fertiliser to the water, this provides a nutrient solution that contains everything the plant needs to grow healthily. Company founder and CEO, Eric Amyot, of Modular Farms, based in Ontario quoted “Indoor agriculture is becoming a very important trend in the food market”. With the ability to yield more crops in a shorter space of time, modular farming is set to become a staple method of agriculture.

What are the food benefits of using modular farming?

Modular farming is a great way to create produce in challenging environments, including deserts, mountains and urban areas where diverse vegetables and fruits cannot grow naturally. A highlight of using this vertical form of farming is that you can customise your system to suit the agriculture you are growing, providing a controlled eco-system that allows you to grow a range of produce. You also have the ability to run multiple environments at the same time with modular farming as  each module is sealed from external factors. This sealed factor also helps to remove the need for pesticides and insecticides, providing clean food that is not harmed by pathogens such as E.Coli and listeria.

How is the UAE utilising modular farming methods?

The UAE are dedicated to creating new methods of agriculture, to make produce more accessible to the public, whilst also taking steps to work towards a more green world. In 2017, the UAE government provided a grant totaling 100,000 USD to support the development of island and coastal modular farms in the UAE. Doctor Dionysia Lyra who is a leading scientist on the grant project mentioned that “The quality of land and water has deteriorated over the last decade, significantly decreasing vegetable production in the UAE. Saline groundwater cannot be used for the cultivation of traditional crops”, therefore there is a need to move into other more sustainable and clean methods of farming, such as modular farming. The government grant has now given opportunity to new businesses within the field, including Smart Acres, created in 2020. The vertical farm has now surpassed all industry-targeted goals, with its clean and locally-grown produce in the UAE. This gives the opportunity to Smart Acres to now provide the UAE with high quality and clean produce that can be made at any time of the year, increasing the range of food the UAE population can choose from.

Modular Farming in the future

There is a growing appetite for different methods of agricultural farming. At first greenhouses were the first part of the movement to grow year-round produce. However as they required the sun to grow, it meant that produce had to be laid out horizontally, taking up lots of space. Using large spaces for produce is not only expensive, but in big cities, the land may not necessarily exist, therefore modular farming is already a better update to this method. We expect to see a growth in modular farms as they provide better quality food at a quicker speed, along with an investment in new agritech, sustainable agriculture practices, and offering support to farmers. Using hydroponics, aquaponics and organic agriculture will rise in popularity, pushing us all towards a greener world.