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Do crops grow better in the city or country?

Researchers analyzed the efficiency of growing crops in towns and cities.

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Cropped shot of faceless young woman walks with purchases carries fresh vegetables in eco friendly string mesh bag dressed in striped jumper poses against street background. Zero waste concept
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By Lilli Humphrey via SWNS

Urban crops can have higher yields than conventional farming methods, reveals a new study.

Researchers analyzed the efficiency of growing crops in towns and cities - and found they can have a higher yield than conventional farming.

Urban agriculture is increasingly looked to as a local food source and a way to help combat unequal food access as urban populations boom.

However, little is known about productive urban agriculture compared to conventional rural farming.

The new study, led by Dr. Florian Payen, an environmental scientist at Lancaster University, digs into the ever-growing connection between urban gardeners and hydroponics.

The team looked at research on urban agriculture from 53 countries to find out which crops grow well in cities, what growing methods are most effective, and which spaces can be utilized for growing.

Study lead author Dr. Payen said: “Despite its growing popularity, there’s still quite a lot we don’t know about urban agriculture."

The team found that urban yields for some crops - including cucumbers, tubers, and lettuces - are two to four times higher than conventional farming, with many others produced at similar or higher rates than usual.

Green spaces - such as gardens and parks - are often the focus of urban agriculture studies.

However, Dr. Payen's study included “grey spaces” - places in cities that are already built but can be used for growing crops with the right reinforcements, such as rooftops and building facades.

Dr. Payen said: “Surprisingly, there were few differences between overall yields in indoor spaces and outdoor green spaces.

"There were clear differences in the suitability of crop types to different grey spaces."

He said certain crops - such as lettuce, kale and broccoli - are more naturally suited to being grown vertically in indoor spaces.

Dr. Payen says the crops appeared to thrive in hydroponic environments, being in a controlled environment allows them to be grown throughout the year, leading to higher annual yields.

Between five and 10 percent of legumes, vegetables and tubers are grown in urban settings, and between 15 and 20 percent of global food is produced in cities.

Dr. Payen explained that once scientists have accurate estimates for urban crop yields, they can map out a city’s potential growth areas and calculate how much food could be produced there.

He said future studies will also be used to estimate cities’ potential to meet future food demand.

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