Vertical farming would help create a sustainable food system in Canada

  • National Newswatch

It would reduce Canada’s dependence on produce imports

Ottawa-Encouragement of vertical farming (VF) across the country could help ease Canada’s dependence on imported fruits and vegetables and produce food for northern communities, says a discussion paper released by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

While the term vertical farming has been around for a while and is usually seen to bring year-round food production to urban areas, the paper describes it as “an array of production methods for continuous crop production in artificial environments using technology and configurations to elevate crops in a vertical fashion.”

The paper was prepared by CAPI’s 2022-2024 cohort of Doctoral Fellows as part of a program offered to give students the opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge and expertise to some of agriculture’s most critical policy issues. Their assignment was to consider the challenge of how recent trade disruptions, food security concerns and climate change commitments are impacting Canadian agrifood and the resulting policy implications.

The Fellows concluded that vertical farming has “the potential to supply domestically grown fruits and vegetables more sustainably to address food security while boosting supply chain resilience in the face of shocks and vulnerabilities from climate change impacts in traditional growing regions, and from trade disruptions.

“However, challenges remain for greater expansion of vertical farming in Canada due to its heavy reliance on energy inputs, new technologies, the regulatory and trade policy environment, and consumer and farmer resistance to this high technology form of agricultural production.”

The Fellows created a proposed roadmap to guide government and industry decision-makers around the implementation of vertical farming in Canada that sets out “an adaptive, enabling policy and regulatory environment that ensures there is engagement among stakeholders, greater education and awareness of the opportunities VF can provide the general public and those in Northern communities and innovative responses from investments in the sector so it can grow and contribute to a more sustainable food system in Canada.”

They said that potential solutions include increased public and private investments in research, new technologies, infrastructure and workforce skills, as well as incentives that encourage clean energy use and support locally adaptable configurations for urban and northern communities. Canada's food system is globally recognized for its safety, quality, and food security per international reports, yet the country's reliance on fruit and vegetable imports poses risks to the accessibility of healthy diets and to the resilience of the supply chain.

The report examines the potential of vertical farming to manage these challenges and proposes a roadmap to navigate decision-making on expanding this concept of farming to support Canada in transitioning toward a more sustainable food system. It involves a two-fold approach: first, an analysis of current trade-related vulnerabilities facing the supply of fruits and vegetables by province, as well as an analysis of the environmental, socio-economic, and trade policy interventions that must be considered in decision-making processes if VF were to be expanded as potential solutions contributing to the sustainability of food systems in Canada.

The second one is a proposed roadmap to support decision making in expanding VF in Canada, designed from the findings of the preceding part, and considering the principles of adaptive governance and management to ensure that their implementation remains viable amidst uncertainty and change.

The paper noted that Canada’s food system is considered top performing in terms of food security. In 2022 Canada was ranked 1st in terms of food safety and quality and 7th in terms of food security by the Global Food Security Index. “However, Canada’s relatively high dependence on imports of fruits and vegetables makes it vulnerable to disruptions at different points of the food supply chain. Any such disruption creates a threat to Canadians in accessing healthy diets and to ensure resilience in Canada’s fruits and vegetables supply.”

This news item was prepared for National Newswatch