Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Electronics companies invest in agriculture

In 2014, there were estimated to be 570 million farms in the world, and an increasing number of farmers are looking to technology to make their crop growing more efficient. Nearly $600 million is spent on agricultural technology, or ag-tech, every year, and there are some fascinating developments from household name electronic companies keen to get involved in making the farmers’ lives a little bit easier, and their yields a little bit bigger.

With less than half a percentage of their land given over to agriculture, it’s not a surprise that Singapore is reliant on food imports for more than 90% of its fruit and vegetables. However, the country is using what it does best – technology – to try to redress the balance, with Panasonic at the forefront of this.

Vertical farming, involving giant, A-shaped greenhouses, puts crops into trays on a motorised racking system. A bit like a ferris wheel, these trays move slowly up and over the racking, keeping them exposed to sunlight for as long as possible. Panasonic has successfully grown spinach, radishes and rocket using this method.

Panasonic isn’t alone, either. Electronics brand Sharp has an indoor farm on the go in Dubai where they’re growing strawberries, which are usually far too expensive for the general public as they have to be imported. Dubai currently imports 98% of its fresh food. Sharp is using LEDs which can control the lighting, sensors to detect air quality, and their own monitoring systems to check the humidity and temperature. It’s an entirely unselfish venture, as Sharp wants to collect data to share with others interested in the best way to grow strawberries in Dubai and make the country more self-sufficient.

Toshiba, Sony and Fujitsu are also in on the act, recycling their old clean room facilities in Japan and repurposing them as soil-free lettuce farms. The lettuces are grown in a hydroponic situation, and can be encouraged to grow at double the speed of their field-grown counterparts due to the LED lighting which has been designed to boost photosynthesis.

With so many of our electrical companies realising that ag-tech is a serious market, particularly in places where farming isn’t possible, it’s exciting to see high tech innovation which really could change the way a country develops.

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