‘Realistic optimism’ - the future for vertical farming

Vertical farming in the UK needs to be positioned correctly, rather than being over-sold as a miracle solution, believes Director of Communications for Harvest London, Ed Morgan. Promoting the true, tangible benefits will help to not only harness its potential, but also increase buy-in from the agricultural sector and beyond. Here in an exclusive guest blog with CHAP, Mr Morgan explains how context is key to managing expectations and finding a permanent ‘place’ for vertical farming.

“For many, vertical farming was over-sold in the early days, as a miracle solution for food production. Yes, there are many exciting innovations within the VF world and great potential to increase productivity, but I believe we need to approach the technology with realistic optimism if we’re to gain the full benefits.

With climate change, disruption to food supply from the war in Ukraine, and high inflation, we’re in quite a perilous moment in the UK. Vertical farming can’t solve all the problems, but it can certainly help. A good start is by highlighting the unique selling points of the system, and how this can work in synergy, rather than competition, with the rest of agriculture.

Diversity in food production

Imports are a huge part of the UK supply chain and we’ve become very reliant on fruit and veg from overseas. This has increased over the years due to demand and also changing diets, and an interest in different cuisines.

On one hand, this is great because we’re expanding our culinary horizons, but because we can’t grow these crops in our climate, certainly not year-round, it means we have to import.

This is a real strength for vertical farms, which is great for crops unsuitable for the UK climate. We’re constantly expanding the range of crops that can be grown in vertical farms, and the system can help us to achieve diversity in the food chain whilst dramatically reducing food miles.

Getting to the bottom of food security

This links nicely to the issue of food security. With VF, we can trace exactly where food has come from and what was involved in growing it. Companies get full visibility on their ingredients, and consumers get fresher food.

Excitingly, we can also glean so much valuable data during the process, particularly as larger and larger farms are built, which will help to improve yields and therefore the economics of vertical farming. This a great opportunity for learning, and if the insights can be spread through the industry it will help farms to pop up everywhere.

Measuring impact through data

Because measuring every variable is possible in vertical farming, it’s this data that can help large retailers and global brands to get a handle on the impact of their supply chain.

What’s hard to track in conventional agricultural systems is easily measurable in vertical farming, because it’s a controlled environment in a known location.

And, with a pressure on companies to reach sustainability targets, this data is a real selling point for the VF industry. It allows for long-term partnerships with companies based on quality, reliability and traceability of the produce, not just the price.

Working in synergy

Although vertical farming is expanding the types of crops it can grow, including non-food crops for purposes such as cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, it won’t replace arable farms growing things like cereals and root vegetables. It isn’t actually trying to.

In fact, there’s nothing stopping UK farms installing a vertical farm of their own. Over time, it may come to be viewed like any other hardware, not so different from a tractor or other agricultural machinery. Clearly, that’s not going to happen overnight, upfront costs are still high, and there are comparatively few VF operating specialists, but it’s a tool that can facilitate food production and add a different dimension to what’s possible.

This is especially relevant given concerns about the impact of farming, and a new subsidy regime that is moving more towards environmental land management.

A shared outlook

Ultimately, we should all have the same end goal – to grow good quality produce in an environmentally sympathetic way. This is a target for all farmers whether they are in conventional agriculture or controlled environment systems.

We don’t need to favour one type of farming over another, it’s simply a case of recognising where each has its place and maximising the outcome.”


Harvest London grow crops in a converted industrial unit in East London, supplying restaurants and food businesses across the city. For them, it’s all about shifting the food system towards more local, sustainable, fresh food.

Mr Morgan was a guest speaker at CHAP’s recent vertical farming webinar, which you can view a replay of on YouTube


Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.