How A Robotic Farm Could Lead To A More Sustainable Future
This Japanese farm is going fully automated conserve energy and grow fully organic produce
The lot of the farmer has always been one of hard work and uncertainty. The change of seasons, the vagaries of weather, and the rising cost of land and labor conspire against them, limiting growing time, making harvests unpredictable and profits hit or miss. In 2007, in automation-mad Japan, SPREAD Co. started an indoor factory farm to grow lettuce under closely controlled conditions.
Today, SPREAD ships 21,000 heads per day—a staggering 7.7 million heads of lettuce every year. Taking lessons learned in their first plant and improving upon them, the company plans this year to open a state-of-the-art facility in Kyoto that will produce a further 30,000 heads per day.
Shinji Inada, president of Spread, told CNN, “Around the world we’re facing increases in population and more and more environmental issues for farming,” issues such as water shortages, climate change, population growth and scarcity of land. To counter these challenges, Spread took farming indoors. So-called “vertical farms” allow careful control of growing conditions: how much light, how much water, and soil quality. All of this lets Spread cut the growing time of each plant from about two months to only 40 days.
The new plant factory will further improve upon the innovations already made by the company. While workers will still plant and germinate seeds, the growth and harvesting process will be completely automated, cutting labor costs in half. Innovations in water treatment and lighting will improve energy efficiency as well. Since the vegetables are not exposed to the outside world, no pesticides are required.
While the techniques used by Spread could be applied to other crops as well, Inada told CNN, “”I don’t think vertical farming will take over the whole farming industry. I still think seasonal and local vegetables are very important and unique and is something to embrace.”