Underground Farming in Extreme Cold

How underground farming can help exploit extreme cold environments to grow fresh food all year round.

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Why Farming in Extreme Cold

Cold countries have short windows of time (if any) to grow crops in open air, as most plants are not resistant to extreme temperatures. As an alternative, indoor farming provides a way to farm produce year-round in heated environments such as greenhouses. 

The challenge that comes with it, though, is tied to climate control. The colder the temperature on the outside, the higher the electricity bill to compensate for it in order to create a warm environment for plants to grow. In extreme cold, the practice is not feasible altogether as it’s impossible to keep a suitable indoor temperature.

How Underground Farming Makes It Possible

Underground farming has the advantage of being almost entirely independent from outside conditions, meaning farms can be installed virtually anywhere the underground conditions are favorable. 

In addition to that, one of the main advantages of growing crops underground is stable temperature. Several feet into the ground, the temperature is constant year-round. That translates into reduced climatisation costs, which results in higher economical viability of the operation altogether with diminished environmental impact.

Potential Impact

Let’s examine a scenario we built for Québec to get a sense of the economical, environmental and societal impact underground farming could have.

GreenForges underground farm in a snowy environment

What if Canada Replaced Lettuce Imports with Underground Farming Production? 

Canada Heavily Relies on Imports for Lettuce

Let’s take a look at the state of the Canadian lettuce market. Data shown below is taken from a statistical overview of the Canadian vegetable industry conducted in 2019 by the Canadian government. 

Source of data: https://publications.gc.ca/site/archivee-archived.html?url=https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2020/aac-aafc/A71-37-2019-eng.pdf

Canadian Lettuce Market

Field Lettuce Marketed Production (US tons) 93,582
Lettuce greenhouse production (US tons) 9,151
Lettuce imports (US tons) 207,800


Underground Farms Could Replace Lettuce Imports in Just 29 Acres, Anywhere in Canada

What if the quantity of imported lettuce was instead supplied by underground farms? 

In the table below, a ‘Forge’ indicates one growing unit of GreenForges, consisting in a 60m deep cylindrical underground farm with a diameter of around 1m.

Real Estate

Forges needed to replace imports 11,806
Space needed by GreenForges (Acres) 29.15 (0.12 km2)
Space needed by field farming (Acres) 4200 (17 km2)


Needing around 14819 acres (59.97 km2) less as compared to field farming, underground farms would save a considerable amount of surface space.

But that’s not the main point. Because of the stable underground temperature and relative independence from external agents, underground farms can be installed virtually anywhere.

Remote areas with extreme environments can now become green factories of fresh produce. Crops can be grown year-round, day and night.

GreenForges underground farms can operate year-round, day and night

Internalizing the Production of Lettuce Could Turn a $474M Deficit Into a $249M Profit

Let’s have a look at some economic estimations we made about the above-mentioned scenario:

Economic Estimations

Estimated Cost of Installation (CAD) $1,416,066,666
Estimated Net Yearly Profit (CAD) $249,536,262
Lettuce imports (CAD) $474,795,000
Estimated Jobs Created 15,978


Turning a $474M deficit into $249M profit is indeed a dream scenario.

According to our estimations, the construction of around 11,800 lettuce GreenForges would take approximately 5 years and nearly 15k people to complete. The total cost of the installation would be around $1.4 billion CAD.

Environmental Impact

There are a few elements that need to be factored in when assessing the environmental impact of such an operation.

Energy and resources in the bill of materials used to build the farms, such as steel casings, plastic modules along with a multitude of small pieces - all the way to the fossil fuel energy required to drill the farms. 

Water being drawn from underground aquifers could potentially affect their level and must respect state laws. But, because we recycle and minimize evaporation, that impact is minimized as compared to most farming operations; water use efficiency is one of the strengths of underground systems. Speaking of water — The steel casings are welded together and cemented at the bottom, making them waterproof. So there’s no contaminants that can go in or out, avoiding leaks into the underground environment.

Vegetation being cleared on the surface to make place for the farm. But that is completely avoidable. The point of GreenForges is that they require less horizontal space, meaning farms can be fit  in small pieces of land with no or little vegetation, significantly slowing down the horizontal expansion of agriculture. Let’s install the farms within cities or in monoculture farmers fields instead. No need to clear vegetation.

Farming inputs and outputs are also another consideration, we’re working on it. For example, we’re working with inventors of a fertigation technology which almost completely eliminates the need for chlorine or other chemical products required to filter the water during the recycling process. 

The energy source could negatively impact the environment if it’s not renewable energy. Because GreenForges use artificial lights, constantly consuming energy, it’s important that power comes from renewable energy sources with little to no carbon footprint.

The underground geology may get impacted if too many GreenForges operate too close to one another, constantly absorbing and radiating heat through their steel casings and into the soil. We’re talking with outside experts to shed more light on this potential issue. Once tests are run, we will be swift in communicating their results through our platforms.

For any large scale GreenForges farm, we’ll work with partners to help us put together detailed and accountable environmental mitigation and regeneration partnerships, taking into account the lifecycle of all construction materials, inputs and outputs, along with how much surface space the farm can help replant with native and diversified vegetation.

Overall, we are committed to our vision that more GreenForges equal more surface space that gets regenerated, achieving the same production output.

Conclusion

Thanks to its relative independence from surface conditions, high-adaptability and scalability, underground farming represents a huge opportunity for countries that struggle with extreme weather conditions to secure a stable, predictable food production stream. In addition, the corresponding field farming space saved can now be claimed back by nature, helping the surface to regenerate.

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