New methods of farming present fresh challenges for pest and disease management

As the world looks to the future and how to feed its increasing population, new methods of food production - including vertical farming - have offered hope for optimising the productivity of agriculture, and a new scientific review has highlighted some of the challenges posed by this novel approach to farming.

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops indoors in stacked layers, using specially designed beds and trays, often in conjunction with soil-free growing techniques, the use of artificial lighting, and climate control. This means that crop production is less weather dependent and has the potential to use less water, land and pesticides.

Scientists from Keele University have highlighted the challenges posed by this new method of farming, particularly for managing pests and disease, and recommend that further research be undertaken to fully determine the viability of this new form of agriculture for use in supplementing or supplanting current conventional crop production approaches.

Dr Joe Roberts and Professor Toby Bruce, from Keele’s School of Life Sciences, conducted the review alongside colleagues from Harper Adams University to offer a scientific perspective on the pros and cons of this new method of intensive farming.

Their findings, published in the journal Annals of Applied Biology, highlighted a number of important factors that need to be considered when implementing this type of farming system, particularly plant density, lighting systems, and controlling the spread of insects and disease throughout crops.

The researchers also highlighted the importance of further investigation into the benefits and drawbacks of this type of farming, particularly considering previous press reports claiming that vertical farming presents a pest or disease risk of nearly zero.

Dr Roberts said: “Vertical farming is certainly an interesting approach to crop production, but we believe further research is required to understand how best to protect crops grown in these systems from pests and diseases as there is little information available.

“Like many other technology-based industries, this is an area with a lot of entrepreneurial interest and investment, but it would benefit from increased independent research and standardisation in production methods to fully determine its potential.”

Our partners