Panasonic Branches into Indoor Farming13th March 2015     By: Panasonic Media

Panasonic are venturing into the world of horticulture by commercially growing vegetables in indoor facilities in Singapore and Japan.

Local Governments are encouraging indoor farming methods to overcome land shortage which makes both countries reliant on importing fresh produce from overseas.

In Singapore, Panasonic has converted an old automation factory into an indoor farm. The 248 sq. metre factory in Tuas, Western Singapore, is the first facility of its kind to be licensed by the government.

It uses an innovative soil-based system and Panasonic artificial LED lighting to cultivate vegetables without pesticides in half the time a traditional farm requires. The factory can maintain optimum growing conditions, where temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels are closely monitored and controlled.

According to Agri-Food of Singapore, only 8% of vegetables consumed are grown locally. The Tuas factory can produce 3.6 tonnes of produce per year; however Panasonic aims to increase the output to 1,000 tonnes by March 2017.

Hideki Baba, Managing Director of Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific says: "Given the global shortage of arable land, climate change and increasing demand for quality food as well as a stable food supply, Panasonic hopes our indoor vegetable farm can contribute effectively to the nation's food self-sufficiency levels."

At present, Panasonic is cultivating 10 varieties of vegetables in Singapore including lettuce, radishes, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, and basil. It is also producing Japanese varieties such as ooba (mint), mizuna (mustard) and mitsuba (parsley) which are normally unable to be grown locally.

Prior to the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the vegetable farming industry was controlled by an ageing population of family farmers who owned small plots of land. These factors drove up the cost of fresh produce and raised questions over sustainability for the future.

When reconstructing the Fukushima region, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) offered support to businesses that used the latest technologies to grow produce indoors. Before the earthquake, the Fukushima precinct thrived on local produce, however many locals fled the area after the earthquake. Government initiatives' supporting growing produce has helped attract residents back into the area.

In May 2015, Panasonic's Fukushima factory will take on a new lease of life as a vegetable factory. Previously used to manufacture digital cameras, the Fukushima Factory suffered huge damages during the earthquake.

The factory will utilise a wide range of Panasonic products and technologies including lighting, air conditioning and energy conservation technologies to help cultivation. As plants grow, sensors measure temperature and moisture levels and Panasonic's system automatically opens and closes curtains and windows to control sunlight and airflow.

The fear of contamination following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has tainted perception of locally grown produce. Local officials have however confirmed that produce from the Fukushima precinct is safe to consume. The atmospheric radiation level in the Fukushima district is now similar to that of New York and London and rigorous testing has been carried out on locally grown produce.

There are plans to construct a second factory in Japan which will produce highly specialised plants such as a low potassium lettuce which is used to aid kidney disease.

Panasonic is also working on a system for people to grow vegetables at their homes, and there are plans to develop indoor farming facilities in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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