Riblet#46: Vertical Strawberries

Change, any kind of change, always brings with it a range of risks.  If you do not adapt to change, or exploit change, then the risks will likely crystallise and hurt you in some fashion.

Agriculture has always been exposed to risks around the weather, and climate change has increased those risks with stronger and more frequent storms, floods, heat-waves, droughts and wild-fires.  With many high value crops such as berries, a few degrees alteration in temperature can ruin the crop.  The limited availability of fresh water and fertile land can also impose constraints on and/or increase costs of production.

Then there are the risks of trade wars and increased tariffs such as USA v China, and UK v the rest of the world.  Deglobalisation is driven by populism but also by environmental awareness and the desire to limit long supply chains and transport costs, and to ensure that environmental standards are upheld.  There are also the risks for many farmers in hiring migrant workers to pick their crops – the crop may perish in the fields unpicked if they cannot get the labour.

The adaptation that is emerging is called vertical farming: growing produce on giant multi-storey walls nourished with precise levels of light and water with the whole process mechanised.  These walls can be part of dedicated installations or attached to buildings such as schools and offices. 

The costs are initially high but are falling.  In the UK, vertically-farmed herbs can now compete on cost with those grown horizontally.  The light is generally produced from solar-sourced electricity, and the produce uses as little as 5% of the water consumed by traditional methods.

So when people ask what we will do with all these empty office blocks in city centres now that home-working may be here to stay, there may be a green-fingered solution waiting for the moment to come…

Data Sources: The Financial Times, Wikipedia

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