First vertical farm opens in Singapore

Nine stories of greens.

Channel News Asia's Olivia Siong writes about the opening of what appears to be the world's first commercial vertical farm:

The technique uses aluminium towers that are as tall as nine metres, and vegetables are grown in troughs at multiple levels. The technique utilises space better an advantage for land-scarce Singapore. Sky Greens farm first started working on the prototype in 2009, and has opened a 3.65-hectare farm in Lim Chu Kang.

The farm currently has 120 vertical towers, and hopes to increase the number to 300 by next year. This will increase its current daily supply of vegetables from 0.5 tonnes to two tonnes by 2013.

"The challenge will be to get investors interested. This type of farm needs (relatively) higher capital," said Dr Ngiam Tong Tau, the chairman of Sky Greens. "This is a new system, so people need to be trained (and) we need to attract people to come here to work."

The farm's expansion is expected to cost some S$27 million. Currently, about seven per cent of Singapore's vegetables are grown locally.

The site has a photo of the farm, while more are available at inhabitat:

Vertical farming is of questionable utility at present, but as with so many things, where Singapore goes, the rest of the world may follow. As pressure for locally sourced food squares up against the continued growth of urban populations worldwide, the technology may let off some of that pressure.

Vertical farm! Photograph: inhabitat

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.