Robo-farming in Japan

Spread vegetable factory
15 February 2016

A vegetable factory that plans to open in Kyoto in 2017 will be the first farm to be entirely run by robots. Japan’s Spread Co. LTD is set to prove that huge quantities of food can be grown without humans and that food production can be fully automated using robo-farmers ­– while profiting from 10 million lettuces a year.

At 4,800 square metres (half the size of a football field), the futuristic farm will be the first without farmers, growing 80,000 heads of lettuce per day indoors vertically beneath LED lighting. It aims to expand this to 500,000 per day by 2020. Agribots’ will automate the entire planting process from germination to seeding, harvesting and delivery, while also monitoring levels of carbon dioxide and lighting conditions. At the moment human farmers are currently needed for the seeding process as the seedlings are so fragile.

The Japanese firm already runs the world’s largest vegetable factory in Kameoka, Japan, which uses artificial lighting to grow 10,000 lettuce heads per day. Benefits of vertical farms are that they’re not susceptible to weather or environment and crops can be protected from food contamination and pesticide.

By fully automating the process the company aims to reduce the risk of human contamination and enable round-the-clock growing and harvesting: “Operation costs have been falling due to advances in technology, such as more efficient LED lighting, water recycling and air management systems,” says J.J. Price, Global Marketing Manager for Spread. “The introduction of automation also reduces many of the associated labour costs, so we believe that we are on the right track.”

Arguments against automation include putting farmers out of work, but this attempt to address shortages caused by the country’s shrinking workforce and ageing population could also create more interesting jobs as human farmers can concentrate on learning how to produce higher quality vegetables and pass savings onto customers. On top of this, it could facilitate food being produced in far more inaccessible places than traditional farms – such as offshore, or even in space.

Adapted from a piece by the Futures Centre

Submitted by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future

Project leader

J.J. Price, Global Marketing Manager for Spread

Location

Japan (Kyoto)

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