To date, the main problem of the region is drought. VeggiTech aims to address a range of issues faced by arid and semi-arid regions. For a long time, the UAE and neighboring countries have been importing food, but with the advent of technology, things are changing for the better. VeggiTech has created a system that makes vertical farming possible. As the name suggests, vertical farming is a type of farming in which crops are grown vertically in stacked layers in a controlled environment (VeggiTech, n.d.). Problems such as high water use, as in the case of conventional farming, are addressed in vertical farming, given that water is recycled in this approach. In addition, VeggiTech is committed to providing the region with sufficient food, given the population growth, and this issue has received the full support of the government.
VeggiTech has been operational for more than 20 years. This means that the company specialties are of no doubt in terms of quality. VeggiTech professionals have massive experience meaning that the hydroponic system established does not break down frequently, and the overall setup is generally attractive (VeggiTech, n.d.). In other words, the VeggiTech leadership team is committed towards demonstrating a reliable technology system that truly offers the value for money and return on investment despite the challenges that could be experienced. The farms are well-equipped to ensure farmers are equipped with proactive growth technologies and efficient farm management solutions designed for the 21st century. One should note that the VeggiTech long operation in the vertical farming is an asset since they are aware of likely challenges and possible solutions in the industry.
Strategic Challenges-High Cost
One of the main strategic challenges affecting VeggiTech is high operational cost. This is as a result of cost of salaries to the technicians and all employees who are expected to oversee the complete functioning of system especially the hydroponics. Also, high cost is due to lack of subsidized farm inputs in the region, which are essentials and the farming cannot be successful without. The cost of electricity is also an issue due to need for lighting that is done all the time. However, investing in alternatives sources of power. Last but not the least, one should note that high operational cost is a direct cause for unaffordable food prices, an indication that there is an urgent need for government intervention to subsidize and cater for such cost to ensure cost is lowered.
VeggiTech and Vertical Farming
According to experts, vertical farming is the solution to threat of food security. This is due to the fact that vertical farming assures a higher productivity in a small area; the amount of water used is less, and less period for growing crops. These and other shows how vertical farming is practical for arid and semi-arid areas like in United Arab Emirates. UAE is globally known for undertaking mega projects meaning that the country is fully capable for investing in such project via partnership with companies such as VeggiTech. More likely than before, arid and semi-arid countries will likely be key exporters of food in other regions due to successful vertical farming practice.
Vertical farming is aided by technology leading to faster growth cycles as well as quick harvest. It translates to a situation whereby more food can be grown all year, and in less space as compared to the traditional type of farming. Also, vertical farming can aid a country to effectively plan in terms of food production for its citizen, effectively predict in case of any shortage and lay strategies on how to deal with such issues. Evidently, vertical farming also saves on water considering water can be recycled and lesser units are used as compared to the traditional farming approach (Birkby, 2016). Overall, this makes is possible for farmers to grow crops without worrying whether the available limited water can support farming or not.
One of the main strength associated to the VeggiTech is that they have already established themselves as key leaders in the Agro Tech industry in the region. In this sense, they will continually benefit from the unlimited opportunities, which looking at the present market will increase. Also, having a team of professionals who have a vast experience in operations associated to vertical farming gives the company a competitive advantage over their competitors. On the other end, competition from new companies is a weakness that the company has to deal with as well as issue of unsustainability due to high cost of power. Considering that the population is growing, the need for food will raise, which means that VeggiTech has a chance of expanding to other region to offer food solutions.
Principles of Hydroponic Farming
The three basic principles for hydroponic farming are soil-less, controlled temperature and less water used. First, in relation to soil less, growing crops without necessary any soil; hence, the produce is pesticide free. Also, as compared to open farming, hydroponics use 75% less in terms of volume of water, which has been achieved via robust science and technology (De Oliveira et al., 2020). Saving water is beneficial considering that other the source cannot be depleted. One of the main benefits of controlled temperature is that it ensures proper plant growth and best quality since the experts are aware of needed temperature in different periods. This is different from traditional farming whereby it is increasingly difficult to control temperature, and as a result, the plants are affected by limitless environmental factors.
Challenges in Vertical Farming
VeggiTech vertical farming experiences a number of challenges. First, the system uses high electricity units, which is expensive. Even on cases where generators are used, the cost of fuel is way beyond the reach especially for a low level farmer (De Clercq et al., 2018). The numbers of crops cultivated are limited considering that the systems designs do not support all types of product. The cost of labor could be overwhelming considering that the personnel working there should be well trained to handle the equipment and run the operations in a reliable manner. While that is not enough, only RO water is used meaning that additional cost is incurred. Farming during summer months, that is, from May to September could be challenging. The issue is due to burning of electric components, humidity and water pumps in the growing rooms. Oasis cubes and rockwool cubes are kind of soil used for seeding different plants such as kale and lettuces especially in IVF. If the specific said soils is not used, it translates to a situation whereby low quality produce are harvested (De Clercq et al., 2018). During harvesting, refrigerated vans are used to ensure that the farm produce are kept fresh and preserved from rotting easily. Also, it facilitates the product to reaching preferred market in a perfect condition. Growing fruits is an expensive affair due to the need for higher intensity lights that are expensive to install and maintain.
Solutions to Strategic Challenges
In the modern world, not only in agriculture industry but across the board, looking for alternative sources of energy is encouraged. Overreliance on one source of power such as electricity could be hurting in terms of high cost and unexpected shortages. For example, blackout could affect the growth of plants if the system is only relies on single source. Looking for alternatives such as wind and solar power is a proper plan considering that they are environmental friendly sources of power. Therefore, the government of the day should implement measures that encourage purchase of solar panels via offering subsides and controlling prices so that farming can be affordable. Other alternatives sources of power that needs to be considered include nuclear, hydroelectric and geothermal, among others. Use of artificial intelligence (A.I) has been used in different industry such as healthcare and agriculture is no exemption. Artificial intelligence aids in detecting pests and relaying timely information to the control room meaning a preventive decision can be made early enough. Also, A.I helps to monitor the temperatures in vertical farming meaning that it is possible to tell what is required and when, and regulate accordingly translating to a situation whereby plants can thrive. A.I also ensures post-harvest risk of loss is reduced since it is possible to tell if the product is properly stored or not (Spanaki et al., 2021). A.I can also be used to take orders and do delivery in different regions. At the end of the day, this minimized the cost of delivery if otherwise alternative means were used. Alternative markets in the region especially where there is food shortage is experienced should be highly considered. Owing to the fact that vertical farming is done in almost all months across the year, the produce sometimes could be surplus requiring for creative marketing to ensure no post-harvest loss. In other words, the farmers should not be concerned with lack of market but instead be innovative enough to grow variety of product that caters for the needs of increasing population. Among other benefits for seeking alternatives markets for farm produce is that increased revenue via taxation will be collected and emergence of direct and indirect job opportunities for the involved personnel. Therefore, VeggiTech and other companies doing vertical farming should prioritize looking for new markets as part of dealing with problems that might be affecting them.
VeggiTech is a company in Dubai practicing vertical farming. The Agro Tech company main aim is to disrupt farming, and address challenges associated with traditional approaches of farming. As compared to traditional farming, vertical uses less water and the produce per square meter is higher. However, setting up a fully functional system is expensive especially a hydroponic but the results are worth it. Some of the challenges that VeggiTech faces in as far as practicing vertical farming is concerned include high cost of energy, growing limited type of plant, use of only RO water, and expensive labor. Also, it is an expensive affair to grow fruits due to required intensity lights. Obviously, when cost of growing a certain crop is high, the consumers will have to pay more for the final products.
De Clercq, M., Vats, A., & Biel, A. (2018). Agriculture 4.0: The future of farming technology. Proceedings of the World Government Summit, Dubai, UAE, 11-13.
De Oliveira, F. B., Forbes, H., Schaefer, D., & Syed, J. M. (2020). Lean principles in vertical farming: A case study. Procedia CIRP, 93, 712-717.
Spanaki, K., Karafili, E., Sivarajah, U., Despoudi, S., & Irani, Z. (2021). Artificial intelligence and food security: swarm intelligence of AgriTech drones for smart AgriFood operations. Production Planning & Control, 1-19.
VeggiTech. (n.d.). About us. VeggiTech – Advanced Farming. Web.