When you decide to start a vertical farm, you are immediately faced with a number of choices.

Should you put your farm in an urban location, or a rural location?

In a cold environment, or a warm one?

Should you use hydroponic systems, or soil?

All of these decisions ultimately have a massive impact on the success of your farming operation.

One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make it whether or not to use shipping containers. Customizable, mobile and stackable, containers make it easy to set up plants on levels in your vertical farm.

However, they come at a cost. Because for all the ease that comes with using containers, they put major constraints on you as well. 

Over the years, Growcer has evolved to a point where our vertical farming systems operate without the use of containers. The following are the five main reasons we have opted for the non-container route:

1. Containers are hard to stack

In a farm, logistics is everything. And while vertical farms give you a ton of benefits over traditional farms in terms of space usage, there’s one big thing you have to keep in mind:

Stacking.

In a vertical farm, crops are arranged one on top of another. This means that higher layer crops are more difficult to access than lower ones. If you add containers into the mix, the situation gets a whole lot more complicated.

Not only do you have to reach higher up to access individual plants–which you will always have to do in a vertical farm–but you’ll also have to access individual containers at those heights. This can make logistics a lot more complicated. For example, if you want to access a plant that is more than one layer high, you’ll need to use a step ladder to reach the shipping container, get inside the container, and then access the plant from there. Compare this to a system where you’ve got plants arranged in a warehouse on shelves. In such a set up, you can easily reach any plant or row of plants with a step ladder, sparing you the added frustration of having to get in and out of shipping containers.

2. You are constrained by the default dimensions of a container

One of the big benefits of vertical farms is space management.

When you stack crops on top of each other vertically, you make use of every square meter of space available to you.

Using containers undermines all that.

A container has a set amount of space in it, and each one takes up more space inside a facility than it has within it. This is because a container needs not only enough space to house plants, but also some room for you to move around inside it. So when you use containers, not every square meter of available farm space is being used optimally. 

If, instead of using containers, you simply stored your crops on shelves, you could have more crops per square meter, and thus a higher total yield. Every square foot would be used optimally, since you would not be wasting space on containers. This is one of the main reasons why we at Growcer have moved toward a container-free vertical farming environment.

3. You need to scale things you probably do not want to scale

Everybody wants to scale their farm at some point. The bigger your farm, the greater your profits after all.

But scaling comes with cost. The more you scale, the more you need to invest in the systems that are installed in each unit of farm space.

Particularly if you are operating an AI-powered automated farm, installing more automation equipment can become a huge cost at scale.

Containers force you to scale such costs exponentially, as each container will need its own set of tools installed within it. Compare this to a shelf-based system, where a given number of automation tools may be able to tend to 1.5 times as many plants as a container can house. In this instance, you can have more tools doing more work than would be possible in containers–where the space requirements place a firm ‘floor’ on how much gear is needed per number of plants.

4. They are hard to connect with key inputs

Containers can be a nightmare when it comes to interfacing with key farm inputs like power, water, CO2, and others.

Every farm needs these inputs. If you are operating an indoor farm, they will need to be brought in manually–a major cost at any indoor farming operation. Of course, when everything goes right, the extra space you get per square meter in an indoor farm makes up for the increased power and water costs. 

But if you are running an indoor farm with containers, you are faced with a major headache:

Getting your key supplies into the container.

As with any other indoor farm, you will need to use cords (for power & water), sprinklers (for watering systems), and tubes (for CO2 release). However, with containers, getting these transmission systems where they need to be is an extra headache, as you will need to get them inside the container before getting them to the plants. This may mean using more and longer transmission systems than you’d need with a regular indoor farm.

5. Isolation can work against you

One of the most commonly touted benefits of containers is the insulated and isolated environment they provide.

By sealing off a crop inside a container, you create a micro-environment where you can control the conditions so they’re perfect for that one specific product.

The problem comes when you do not want such a controlled environment.

If, for example, you want to grow a diverse array of different horticultural and agricultural products in one place, you may benefit from a more open environment.

In this case, having a cluster of plants close together in a highly climate-controlled environment may work against you, creating conditions that are ideal for one, but not all, of your crops.

If your goal is to grow a wide variety of crops in one area, you may benefit from a more ‘open’, non-container-based environment.

Summing it all up

Container-based farming comes with a number of benefits for the right farmer in the right circumstances. Customizable, mobile and stackable, it easily lets you place grow operations anywhere you like.

However, containers are not necessarily the best option for all farmers in all circumstances.

Particularly if you want to maximize the coverage of the grow space you have available, you may benefit from growing indoors on shelves rather than in containers.

At Growcer, we have found that this is the best approach for running an indoor, vertical farming operation that gets the absolute max yield per square meter.

To your farming success, The Growcer Team.

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