The classic food conflict still plagues us - How do we get the food grown in the wide open farmland to the densely populated cities cheaply and efficiently? With the invention of refrigerated transportation, it became easier to transport foods farther than ever before, allowing regions with cold snowy winters year-round access to fruits and vegetables from more tropical or temperate climes. As long as you were willing to pay the out-of-season price, you could have grapes, avocados, and tomatoes whenever you wanted. This created a new era of plenty for food. While I personally wasn't alive for the previous era, my parents always seem eager to regale me with stories of how you just couldn't find certain foods in certain seasons.

New challenges also arose around the exponentially extended supply chains for this food, and while some consumers are happy to pay for the additional transportation cost, we are seeing drastic externalities in increased fuel consumption and carbon emissions which are doing long-term damage to the environment. One of the most notable examples is the new-found demand for fresh fish for sushi.

One option is for supply chains to get creative in order to counter the negative effects of these demands. Alternatively, they could eliminate the supply chain altogether, and reduce that distance down to practically nothing.

New and disruptive thinking in agriculture has fostered plans to make the most of a bad situation in modern cities. Where there is a premium on land, instead of planting out, plant up. New designs for vertical farms that could stand alongside the skyscrapers of urban skylines will radically increase arable land in urban environments.
By 2050, 80% of the world's population will live in urban environments if current trends continue. We must challenge ourselves to become creative supply chain managers, and always think of what we can do to benefit the most people and simultaneously care for our environment.

Projects that could reasonably be predecessors to massive skyline farms have already begun, such as El Paso's High Density Vertical Growth System.

The HDVG system grows plants in closely spaced pockets on clear, vertical panels that are moving on an overhead conveyor system. The system is designed to provide maximum sunlight and precisely correct nutrients to each plant. Ultraviolet light and filter systems exclude the need for herbicides and pesticides. Sophisticated control systems gain optimum growth performance through the correct misting of nutrients, the accurate balancing of PH and the delivery of the correct amount of heat, light and water.

Vertical farming is undeniably one of those new solutions which could made a real impact in solving our food dilemma. Investments in these new projects in burgeoning urban environments could lead to better health, better access to fresh and cheap produce, and drastically diminished supply chain costs for farmers and agro-business.

Governments and private businesses like Monsanto Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, and Syngenta could provide subsidies to supplant the capital costs for the prototype structures, and we can all do our part to contact interested parties to encourage them to get behind radical new ideas like this. City counsels, agricultural associations, large companies - reaching out to them through professional or social activist networks is really the only way anyone will regard this as a possibility rather than a quaint absurdity.

In the meantime, if you manage a supply chain for food, you should have this foremost in your mind. If you need more ideas for how to break out of your mold and think creatively about the food supply chain, contact Source One Management Services.
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Marck Goldstein

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