Automated farming will soon no longer be a thing of the future: the world’s first robot-run farm, the Vegetable Factory, is set to be in operation in Japan by mid-2017. Everything but the planting of seeds will be a mechanically automated process, advancing the company’s bid to lower costs, increase production, and implement sustainable farming practices in an industry which mandates constant innovation. The development represents a more widespread shift in Japanese industries towards automated processes and mechanically operated technology, as the country’s economy faces a host of problems arising from its aging population.
The company behind the ground-breaking agricultural model is Spread, a Japanese vegetable producer, whose extensive research and development in sustainable farming technology and practices over the last six years has made them leaders in the field. Spread’s automated farm in Kameoka currently produces 21,000 heads of lettuce per day, and has employed approximately 50 people. Last year, Spread announced that, in addition to its flagship automated Vegetable Factory in Kameoka, Kyoto, a new robot-run farm will be constructed in Kansai, the “science city” of Japan, which will halve labor costs and double production, predicted to produce 30,000-50,000 heads of lettuce per day. That number is set only to grow as indoor farming technology continues to develop.
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Through the years of research conducted in Kameoka, Spread developed and refined its farming practices with a focus on profitability for its new, improved automated vegetable farm in Kansai.
“… the construction is progressing with the goal of significantly cutting costs such as labor costs by 50 [percent], energy costs by 30 [percent], and construction costs by 25 [percent] compared to the Kameoka Plant,” says Spread.
The halving of labor costs was achieved when processes between planting seedlings and packaging — including raising the seedlings, transplantation, growth, and harvesting — became fully automated.
In addition to ensuring that the labor shortage resulting from an ageing population will not cause Japanese farming businesses to suffer a collapse, the technological developments pioneered by Spread will enable agricultural production to flourish in any climate and any country.
“Plant factories hold the promise of making any place in the world, such as deserts or snowfields, a production area for vegetables regardless of the external factors like soil,” says the firm.
With climate change looming large over big businesses, the firm has also achieved significant reductions in its recycling — 98 percent of water used is recycled — and energy use through automated farming.
“We have developed low-cost LED lighting in-house that are specialized for plant factories. These lights use less energy and are highly efficient, which has helped us achieve the goal of cutting power consumption by 30 [percent] in our new factory,” says Spread.
Indoor agriculture and automated farming are the subject of enthusiastic discussion among technology developers, environmental engineers and sustainable development experts. With less space to grow vegetables and more natural disasters — droughts, floods, and cyclones — devastating global farming communities each year, many say that indoor and automated farming are the way forward.
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Spread says that it plans to expand its automated farming operations, particularly to countries where food shortage is a present reality, stating that its expansion would help to alleviate both famine and economic hardship.
“… the activation of economic activities through agriculture has the potential to lead to the elimination of not only the food problem but of disparities on a global scale,” said the firm.
One thing is certain: it is not long before fully robot-run organizations are a part of our reality, with automated farming a tangible goal for firms and farms within the next year.
[Image by Wally Santana/Associated Press]