Urban Farming Produces 1/5 World Food Supply Recent Study Finds.
It’s hard to imagine that in just 2010, there was almost no data being collected or analyzed on urban farming. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening, but with no large-scale operations, the need for data collection was not a priority. This was despite the fact that worldwide, urban farming is how a lot of people feed themselves, especially in poor urban communities throughout the world.
2017 shows a different picture. Now urban farming isn’t just being practiced by individuals and hobbyists. Large scale commercial urban farming operations are opening up and scaling in virtually every major city across the globe. And that’s because urban farmers are proving that for many crops, it’s more efficient and more economically viable to grow these crops indoors in the same area where the demand is for those crops. ;
According to the USDA, the average yield for outdoor conventional lettuce production in 2015 was about 30,000 pounds per acre. Indoor greens growers reported growing an average of 340,000 pounds per acre annually. This is due to the many advantages of indoor farming such as vertical growing, year-round production, less loss to pests and disease, and the ability to plant crops much more densely per square foot thanks to soilless growing methods like aquaponics and hydroponics. All these advantages add up to the fact that today, urban farms produce 1/5 world’s food supply.
The best part is these growers are not planning on stopping. In fact, a report titled State or Indoor Farming“, 86% of farmers who participated in surveys are planning to expand their facilities in the next five years and they’re planning on growing in size significantly. The minimum planned expansion is 4.7x larger than current farm size. These growers are selling products and they see the demand potential is much greater than their current production can handle. The next five years should see exponential growth in our industry as current farmers expand and new farmers introduce themselves into the market.
Another intriguing insight gleaned from the same report finds its the small farms with the biggest plans. Farms less than 1,500 square feet have a planned minimum expansion of 179x the sum of their current square footage. What this says to me is that over the past 1-3 years a lot of farmers started small with quasi-commercial scale operations to gauge their markets and now they know the market demand they plan to expand and meet it over the next 5 years.
The report also identifies what this will mean for the industry in terms of growth in dollars. Based on current reported revenue and the expected expansion area, these farms will add to the market between $336 million and $610 million in revenue in the next five years. From all existing indoor farms then, this means a market expansion of between $3.7 billion and $6.8 billion during the same period.
For an industry that was essentially data less at the turn of the decade, indoor urban farming has become a surging industry. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 800 million people worldwide farm in cities. This is a well-established practice that is now benefitting with commercial producers beginning to farm in cities as well. As these producers improve best practices and improve efficiencies all those individuals practicing urban agriculture will benefit leading to more abundant urban production.
What’s more is there are millions of hidden farmers in cities who have not yet realized the benefits of urban farming who will take up the pitchfork so to speak in the coming years. With all the increasing number of large and small scale producers, the improving efficiencies of urban farming and the increasing number of people urban farming/gardening we will see urban farms continue to provide a larger and larger percentage of food to the worldwide food supply.
With all these factors seeing increasing economies of scale, the idea of the City that Feeds ItselfTM is not so far fetched an idea. In fact, it’s not
even the commercial urban farmers that contribute the most to this 20% of the worldwide food supply. It’s the individuals growing on rooftops, in community gardens and balconies that are producing far more food and feeding farm more people in aggregate than their commercial counterparts.
With commercial growing on the rise, we’ll see the impact of urban farming continue to rise well into the next few decades. With the World Health Organization predicting about 9.6 billion mouths by 2050 and 70% of them to be living in cities, our demand for city-grown produce is not going anywhere. All the factors are in place to see this industry and this market balloon in size over the next few decades, as we as a species work to feed and ever increasing urbanized and overall population.
So what does it take to get to the next phase and get the economies of scale to start kicking in? Urban commercial operations, which are currently very capital intensive to build and maintain, must continue to concentrate on high-value crops like micro greens, baby greens, winter tomatoes, and herbs, to stay profitable. As technology prices come down, incentives get created for urban farmers, and commercial and residential producers become more efficient all the ingredients for success are in the mixing bowl to create the world where cities actually produce a majority of the world’s food supply self sustainably. That is what we and others in the industry are striving towards. Our future depends on our ability to out produce our current abilities with less traditional farmland and more people. Cities hold the key to our transition to feeding a modern, highly urbanized population by 2050.