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High tech hydroponics

4th April 2016

It seems hydroponics farming is catching on among tech companies in Asia, especially Japan, Singapore and China. Within the last couple of months, Spread and Fujitsu, both Japanese tech companies, have revealed plans to open hydroponic farms producing lettuce. Kyoto-based company Spread is also embracing hydroponics with its new farm, the Vegetable Factory, where robots will be operating a conveyor belt system running through the farms 4,400m2 with floor-to-ceiling shelves of produce and human involvement only when seeds are planted. At its Aizu Wakamatsu where it produces low-potassium lettuce, Fujitsu uses technology in the form of cloud-based data analytics that enables heating units and ventilation fans to provide the perfect environment.

Despite their different approaches both companies are tapping into a trend of sustainable mass production of food in a limited amount of space, in an effort to satisfy an escalating global need to feed a growing world population. And perhaps this is the reason, Asian nations such as Japan, Singapore and China are the frontrunners because massive populations in small spaces creates a need for thinking out of the box when open fields for extensive food production aren’t so thick on the ground.

While hydroponic farming isn’t new – the move toward automation, and high tech environmental controls has been ramped up in these latest ventures. These approaches take sustainability to another level by recycling water, controlling the environment to minimize pest damage and seriously boosting productivity. Spread estimates the introduction of robotics on its two farms will increase production by 30,000 heads of lettuce to 51,000 heads per day.

The introduction of robots also addresses another challenge for agriculture – the ever increasing age of farmers. The move to robotic production systems such as these eliminates many low skilled jobs, but also elevates food production to a high tech career.