Vertical Farming Costs and the Math Behind Them

Posted by Amy Storey on October 6, 2015

Stacked beds ≠ Vertical farming

Those of you familiar with indoor growing know that the most common form is to take horizontal planes of production and stack them one on top of the other.

We’re going to show you the math behind getting higher production and having less labor costs in the same square footage.

Let’s take two common sizes of beds: one is a 4 X 8 foot bed, and one is an 8 x 8 foot bed.

Now let’s add an aisle. To meet municipal code almost anywhere you go, (and to fit a scissor lift between the rows, necessary for harvesting) you’ll need a four-foot aisle.

So now you have an 8 x 8 area (64 square feet) and a 4 x 8 area (32 square feet). The ratio of growing space to total space is 1:2. You can also say that you have .5 growing space for every 1 foot of total space.4 x 8 foot bed vertical vs stacked farm

Now let’s look at the 8 x 8 foot bed. Add a four-foot aisle, and you’re looking at 8 x 12 total space (96 sq ft) and 8 x 8 growing space (64 sq ft). Now you have a better ratio, 2:3, or .66 growing space to every square foot of total space.

8 x 8 bed vertical stacked

Of course you’re thinking, “stack the beds on top of each other; that’s where the efficiency happens!”

Let’s assume there are four tiers (above fours tiers you start losing money) stacked. Each tier is about three or four feet tall.

Now your growing space to total space ratios have changed again, and you’re looking at 2.0 and 2.64 growing space for your two options. Not bad, right? You can double the amount of production that you began with.

Sounds pretty good.

My Ideas - 4

Until you think about it and realize that each tier above the first, harvesting and maintaining becomes more expensive. By the time you get to tier 4, you’ve increased labor by 60% from the first tier and you’re using scissor lifts to produce.

So what happens when you shift that production to a vertical plane?

My Ideas - 7

Now let’s do the math for a vertical plane farm.

Remember, the ratios for our four-tier horizontal production are 2.0:1 and 2.6:1.

Let’s take an 8 x 8 rack. Instead of looking at it from above, look at it from the side.

You have 64 square feet of growing space, but now you have it on both sides: 128 square feet per rack.

ZipRack Production-5403

When operating on 6-foot centers (six feet between the centers of each vertical rack, which is a generous spacing), the total floor space is 48 square feet. That means that we immediately have a ratio of 2.7 sq ft growing space to 1 foot total space. And we’re only at half the height, and being conservative on spacing.

My Ideas - 6

Let’s pack a little tighter, leaving 5'4" in the aisles (the width of aisles used with CoolBars). Now we’re at 128:40, or 3.2 sq ft growing space to total space. Even better.

And did I mention, fewer OSHA problems? Lower insurance costs? No scissor lifts? Your people are standing on the ground.

In other words, you’re beating the best ratio of stacked production at half the height and way less hassle. Can you see why we’re interested in the second model?

IMG_0230 (1)

It’s because we’re not interested in tiny numbers with big costs. And nobody who is in business should be interested in tiny numbers with big costs, either.

So many facilities are built based on a faulty mathematical premise. Farmer after farmer invest in tiered systems and lose a ton of money. This is a real shame because this is an exciting industry and there are many careers waiting to be grasped in the industry.

Vertical plane production is the only way to grow indoors. (If you want to stay in business, that is.) As long as farmers continue to invest in the wrong type of system, the growth of the indoor vertical farming industry will be slower than they could be. There will be fewer farmers making a living doing vertical farming. There will be fewer communities served.

ZipRack Production-5430

We want to set the record straight. Why? Because we care about those farmers. We care about those communities.

In conclusion

Take the total amount of growing space and compare it to the total space, including aisles before building your farm!

Don’t settle for a ratio lower than 2.7 growing space per foot of total space.

In our next video we’ll be making a comparison of the management practices for these two type of production methods, stacked and vertical. Stay tuned to hear which one wins!



Free Guide: "The 4 Factors of Vertical Farm Success"

Let's face it... The Vertical Farming Space is Noisy.4_Factors_of_Vertical_Farm_Success.png

This guide attempts to cut through the noise and give you a principle-based comparison of the two prominent types of vertical farming in order to help both growers and investors make decisions about their operations. 

This guide will break down what this economically viable system looks like based on 4 criteria:

  1. Space use efficiency and productivity
  2. Labor costs
  3. Profitability
  4. Environment and plant health
The buzz about vertical farming can be confusing.  Learn what it takes to build an economical vertical farm with this free ebook.

Download the Guide


Topics: Business, Indoor Growing

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