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Creating policy to incentivize alternatives in agriculutre industry, specifically, vertical farming.



I propose a policy implementation to incentivize agriculture corporations to adopt sustainable crop production methods. The policy would contain three parts in order to provide economic incentives for agribusinesses to adopt environmentally conscious alternatives as well as supply funds to foster research on the various alternatives, specifically vertical farming. Firstly, the three components of the policy to reduce emissions within the food industry are 1) initiating research and development 2) implementing subsidies for carbon cutting methods in the supply line 3) reducing tariffs for food produced by sustainable alternatives to traditional agriculture. For the purpose of this paper, the alternative I am proposing and will investigate is vertical farming using hydroponic technology. Controlled-environment agriculture and vertical farming have several environmental benefits in addition to reducing fossil fuel use, which will help achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining a healthy climate. It reduces fossil fuel consumption not only from farm machinery but also the fossil fuels required for transporting and distributing the crops. Since vertical farming buildings are meant for urban areas, the crops produced will provide food for the local city. A vertical farm with an architectural footprint of one square city block and rising up to 30 stories (approximately 3 million square feet) could provide enough nutrition (2,000 calories/day/person) to comfortably accommodate the needs of 10,000 people employing technologies currently available. As a result, vertical farming has the potential to provide for a significant portion of the population but I propose starting on a small scale of placing the farms in a few cities in order to determine the effectiveness before making them widespread across the nation or globe. 

What actions do you propose?

I suggest the United States federal government creates a policy that fosters agribusinesses to adopt sustainable farming methods such as vertical farming. This policy would have multiple features to firstly increase vertical farming research and secondly incentivize corporations to adopt hydroponics through economic mechanisms. In order to make vertical farming more wide spread, money needs to be allocated to universities, institutions and research and development departments within agribusinesses to answer various implementation questions including: Which crops grow best in vertical farms? At what rate do various crops grow and subsequently how should they be planted accordingly? How much water, fertilizer and sunlight are required? How does this affect location? Does external climate matter? How much energy is required to support the vertical farm and can it come from renewable sources? In order to facilitate the widespread implementation of vertical farms, these questions need to be answered through further scientific research and testing. Another segment of the policy is the subsidization of food grown through innovative, sustainable methods such as vertical farming. In order to estimate the amount of subsidies from the United States Department of Agriculture, I researched current agricultural and farming subsidies for each state and in total. The United States currently pays around $20 billion per year to farmers in direct subsidies as “farm income stabilization.” The range of agriculture subsidies amongst states from 1994-2014 is $30.8 billion in Texas to $19.4 million in Rhode Island. As a result, the subsidy amount would greatly vary depending on the state that the vertical farm is implemented in but the subsidies would average around $400 million per state per year. This means that if companies implement carbon-cutting mechanisms within their supply line or adopt the vertical farming techniques proposed in this paper, they would receive a portion of this money depending on their crops, production and yield. Lastly, a third mechanism to incentivize sustainable agriculture is to implement trading benefits. For instance, tariffs on sustainably grown foods would be lower than tariffs on foods produced unsustainably. This enables agribusinesses to sell their products on an international market if they comply with the carbon-cutting standards. The implementation process would require several entities including non-profit organizations like the Association for Vertical Farming to pair with corporations in the food industry to build indoor farming complexes. The Association for Vertical Farming strives to advance urban and vertical farming technologies, designs and businesses. This organization would advise a food corporation on the technology to implement and aid in the construction process. 

Who will take these actions?

Agricultural companies in the United States can adopt this technology and build vertical farming centers in various cities. Companies including Dole Food Company, Goya Food Inc. and others will be helped by non-profits to build sustainably and comply with government regulations. NGOs like the Association for Vertical Farming help large corporations execute plans to reduce emissions through technologies like vertical farming. Also, there are several companies like IGES Canada Ltd. that work to bring hydroponic farming technology to the mainstream market to allow corporations in the food industry to take advantage of the technology. There are existing companies that employ sustainable farming methods like vertical farming that serve as examples for other companies that want to integrate indoor farming techniques including AeroFarms, BrightFarms, Edenworks and others. 

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions will be taken in urban areas in order to save untouched land from being turned to agriculture sites. The implementation process will begin on a small level in several incubators across the nation. I propose the locations to be near, if not, in urban areas but avoiding places with high rent like New York City and instead aiming for cheaper alternatives like the New Jersey for instance. If the hydroponics proves to be successful, the vertical farms will proliferate throughout the nation. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

According to the FAO, the food sector of industry (including input manufacturing, production, processing, transportation marketing and consumption) accounts for around 1018 Joules, which approximately 30% of global energy consumption. Also, it produces over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If business remains as usual, this amount of energy consumption will remain. If this proposal is adopted, there is potential to reduce over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions through vertical farming’s impacts on:

  • Land Cover Change
  • Food Waste
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions
  • Biomass Burning
  • Fertilizer Use
  • Refrigeration
  • Transport
  • Storage
  • Packaging
  • Herbicide and Pesticide Use

What are other key benefits?

It allows for large tracts of land to be preserved for natural landscape instead of farming, which will restore ecosystem functions and services. Urban vertical farms will also reduce the amount of transportation required to distribute food, which reduces carbon emissions. It reduces population of insects, which will reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Vertical farming allows for year round food production without loss of yields due to climate change or weather related events. Also, the elimination of soil erosion since the food will be grown hydroponically. Clever recycling techniques will ensure that only a fraction of the amount of water and nutrients will be needed compared with conventional farming, and there will no problem with agricultural run-off. Lastly, vertical farms will provide an additional source of healthy food in contrast to the abundance of fast food restaurants, which contribute to the growing issue of obesity. 

What are the proposal’s costs?

The costs of building a vertical farm are difficult to estimate since there have been few comparable projects. Based on research, the total cost of building a vertical farm would be between $80 million and $100 million. Based on estimates from Columbia University, below is a breakdown of the costs required to build a hydroponic vertical farm.

  • Sub-structure and electro-chromic glass shell - $25,000,000
  • 1000 ton Geothermal HVAC - $2,500,000
  • 400 ton chiller + cooling tower - $500,000
  • Biogas to fuel cell cogeneration facility - $11,000,000
  • 800 kWh/day tracking photovoltaic array - $500,000
  • 4,500 kW water-cooled lighting system - $2,000,000
  • Energy infrastructure and automation systems - $35,000,000
  • Living machine-based water recycling system - $500,000
  • Floating garden hydroponic system - $1,700,000
  • Office and laboratory facilities - $5,000,000


Although this cost may seem extremely high, vertical farming will pay off in the long term because producing food sustainably will reduce the threat of food insecurity and maintain a healthy planet 

Time line

The timeline for execution is to set various goals and after a certain number of years to assess the effectiveness of the vertical farms. The goal first goal would be for 5% of the nations food supply to be from vertical farms by 2035. Since this is an ambitious goal, it will motivate policymakers and agro-businesses to invest and begin implementation. At 2025, the policy will be reassessed if money needs to be reallocated or subsidies need to be adjusted to further incentivize the food industry. If the implementation is successful by 2035, further goals will be set to increase the nations dependence on sustainable agriculture. 

Related proposals

Vertical Hydroponic Farms feed urban communities while reducing carbon emissions is a similar proposal but lacks the policy implementation aspect of my proposal.