Container Farming: Bringing Agriculture to You

Container Farming: Bringing Agriculture to You
External Guest Writer
February 17, 2021

The total agricultural land area being utilized for farming was estimated to stand at 48.6 million square kilometers as of 2016. This number is only expected to rise in the coming decades due to the food shortage being experienced in various regions around the world.

In order to combat the over-reliance on farmlands and to match the dietary requirements of the planet, new and innovative farming methods need to be developed rapidly. One such method that’s making a substantial impact around the world is container farming.

We look at the pros and cons of this farming type in the following article, along with the various limitations and challenges that accompany this method.

What Is Container Farming?

Container farming is a novel method of farming by using shipping containers as a substitute for traditional farmlands. Shipping containers can be placed at any location that has a flat and stable ground. It also requires a steady supply of water and electricity in order to supplement the growth of produce. 

When these conditions are met, this farming type can be a cost-effective and compact method of growing crops across a wide range of ecosystems.

How Do Container Farms Work?

The first step in setting up a container or freight farm involves the actual acquisition of the container itself. Once the housing for this modular farm set-up is in place, the next step is with regards to the type of produce you wish to grow in your container.

There are two choices at this stage. Farmers can either grow a single type of produce or they can opt to grow multiple compatible crops simultaneously. 

After a decision has been made regarding the crops, the hardware and software required to run a freight farm will need to be set up as well. This involves providing lighting, water source, and electricity supply for the shipping container unit. You can choose to either install these vitals on your own or bring in a specialist team to manage your freight farm.

Single Produce

If a farmer has decided to opt for a single crop such as lettuce, they can grow nearly 15,000 lettuce heads with four container farms. Additionally, this will take only half the time to create this volume of produce when compared to traditional farming methods.

Every bit of the produce will also be entirely traceable when grown in a container or freight farm, and this brings in a tremendous level of transparency to the entire process.

Multiple Produce

Farmers who opt to grow various crops within their container farms can also achieve this with the help of hydroponic farming techniques. This is seen as the ideal method for individual growers, researchers, companies, and even universities. 

By using state-of-the-art technology such as solar energy systems, it’s entirely possible to grow any type of crops in any ecosystem. Thus container farms allow desert lands to produce freshly grown fruits and vegetables in the vicinity instead of relying on importing the required foods.

Container Farming: The Good and Bad

We look into the positives and negatives associated with freight farming in shipping containers. 

The Good

There are plenty of amazing benefits that come with a shipping container or freight farm. These advantages make this a novel method to approach farming and are worth your consideration.

Easy to Transport

As the entire farm is isolated into a singular location, it makes it extremely easy to move the farm around whenever necessary. The fact that the farm is already located within a shipping container makes it that much more easier to ship as well.

This allows farmers to attain the rare benefit of setting up a farm at a location that’s cost-effective to their needs. It also allows those who are invested in creating and selling container farms to be able to move their product as soon as the farm is set up.

Creating greenhouses and ensuring that there’s enough warehousing space for a farm is a big hassle that farmers have to deal with before establishing their farmlands. This issue is entirely eliminated thanks to shipping containers or freight farms.

Competition Breeds Lower Pricing

Container farms have proven that it’s relatively easy to establish and run a farm when a person has access to the right expertise and technology. Thanks to this and other novel ways of engaging in agriculture, there are many corporations and individuals who’re making their way into the farming community. 

This bodes well for the consumers at large. As the number of players in farming begins to rise, the price of the crops are sure to drop over time. This means that consumers will have access to fresh fruits and vegetables from various vendors at extremely competitive rates.

Access to Shipping Containers

One of the major components of running a shipping container or freight farm is the actual acquisition of the shipping containers themselves. Fortunately for aspiring farmers, this is one of the easiest steps in the entire process. 

There are millions of shipping containers in use by shipping corporations around the world. As these pieces of storage make their journey across seas and oceans, they tend to take on damages over time. For shipping companies, it’s actually easier to replace the broken containers instead of fixing them. 

This offers an opportunity to farmers who’re seeking such containers for the purpose of farming. It then only comes down to discussing terms with a shipping container provider, acquiring the units, and repairing them as per requirement 

A few thousand dollars is all it will take to have a shell for a brand new farm. This is far cheaper than acquiring a new piece of land for the purpose of farming.

Low Carbon Footprints

Possibly one of the biggest advantages of setting up a farm in a container unit is that this method is extremely environmentally friendly and ends up having a low carbon footprint.

Unlike traditional methods, farmers don’t need to acquire a great amount of land to begin their farming exploits. They also don’t need additional buildings to support their activities. 

This allows new-age farmers to begin farming by simply dropping a shipping container in their backyard or even in an empty parking lot in their neighbourhood. The only requirement here is that the containers require a level land, but this can be easily arranged with a simple scouting mission.

Even if the land you’re eyeing is not level, you can fix that issue by creating a cement land and levelling out the surface.

The fact that farms can be created in low-fertility or inhospitable conditions means that there will be a substantial amount of savings in terms of carbon footprints. This is because it takes a tremendous toll on our planet to send fruits and vegetables to various regions that are distant from the original farms.

The sheer cost of infrastructure, transportation, and storage is immense, and all these eventually amount of sizable carbon footprints.

All these various elements can be easily negated by using freight farming in regions that require their own farmlands.

The Bad

While there are plenty of benefits to container or freight farming that can be touted about, there are a few disadvantages as well. We consider these factors in the section below:

Controlling the Variables

As this farming method needs to become a self-sustaining ecosystem, farmers will need to be quite precise when it comes to controlling the variables. As such, this is one of the biggest benefits of this method of farming.

The fact that the ecosystem is limited to the confines of the container can be a major boon or bane based on the execution.

When executed perfectly, this farming method allows farmers to grow any produce they desire at a location of their choosing. 

Unfortunately, poor execution in terms of the necessary hardware and software can lead to numerous problems for the crops and the farmers.

An indoor farm relies on various factors coming together in unison. This includes:

  • Modulating exchange of gasses from crops
  • Controlling water evaporation levels
  • Offering ample heat and sunlight through artificial lights
  • Maintaining crop populations
  • Checking transpiration levels of plants

A poor ecosystem within a container farm means that the yield from the plants is bound to be on the lower end. Thus it becomes crucial to understand and control these various elements in order to make full use of the potential of a container farm.

Difficult Conditions for Humans

While farmlands offer plenty of space for human workflows to execute their tasks in peace, the same cannot be said about the conditions within a container farm. These spaces are notoriously cramped and are not the ideal working conditions for humans. 

It therefore becomes vital to increase the efficiency of a container farm in order to provide ample space for workers to be able to carry out the required chores. 

Balancing Light and Heat

Of all the various elements at play within a shipping container farm, the two elements that need the right amount of balancing are light and heat. 

As the heat source within a container often tends to be the light source itself, it becomes difficult to increase or decrease one element without affecting the other.

Plants require plenty of light but most of them do not enjoy the heat. This makes it necessary to install HVAC units within the container in order to balance the excess heat being generated from lighting units. 

Not only is this process expensive, it also needs to be executed perfectly in order to offer the right support to the plants. 

A good solution for this issue relies on the use of modular container farms that are built specifically for farming. If a farmer can afford this type of a unit, this issue can be easily managed. These units are designed to offer ample ventilation and solve the overheating issue generated by typical container farms. 

Structural Damages

As previously mentioned, a lot of upcoming container farmers seek out container units that are slightly damaged in order to avail a good price on their purchase. These containers tend to have various structural integrity issues that need to be addressed before setting up a farm.

If this issue is not examined in detail, it can lead to a lowered lifespan of the unit and this can be disastrous in the long run.

The Limitations and Challenges Surrounding Shipping Container Farms

The major limitation of using shipping container farms is the scope and scale of the project. It may require tens or even hundreds of container farms in order to feed a small city in a desert town. Although this is a limitation that’s worth considering, the alternative of importing all the necessary crops to a particular region is also unfeasible as well. 

Thus the challenge now comes down to maximizing the efficiency of container farms. As there are several external elements that need to be perfected within a storage unit to be able to successfully grow crops, understanding these elements in detail is the key. 

Artificial intelligence based softwares and monitoring systems can be employed in this department to help understand the subtle interplay between elements such as light and heat.

If done right, the necessity for such technology is truly immense. In fact, our planet is hot on the tail of colonizing our moon and even seeking out a base on Mars. Such container farms could be crucial in offering a steady food supply in the hostility of space, and ensure that space missions can be ably assisted with fresh produce.

The Container Farm Potential

A container farm is chock-full of potential as it holds the key to bring farming to difficult regions. This is a major boon for dry, arid, and humid regions as they tend to be able to only grow certain types of crops and rely heavily on imports.

If the technical expertise to build and execute a container farm can be spread across these regions, it holds the power to transform the food shortage crisis on our planet and feed numerous hungry mouths the world over.

Read more: Vertical Farming: Will farming move to the cities?