Panasonic’s New Venture into Vertical Farming Raises Eyebrows
When we think of Panasonic, products like televisions and microwaves come to mind. However, this forward-think Japanese company has recently ventured into the agricultural space. In 2014, Panasonic set up a farm in Singapore with the intend to grow leafy green vegetables. Instead of growing crops in fields, they decided to use vertical farming techniques within a warehouse space. Their plan was to eventually sell the freshly-grown crops to local restaurants and grocery stores. Quite a departure from their normal electronics business!
Singapore imports more than 90% of food. Panasonic set out looking for innovative ways to increase the amount of produce grown on the island nation. Since Singapore suffers from a lack of arable land, indoor farming seemed to be a viable solution.
So were they successful? During the early days, the 2,670 sq. ft. warehouse farm was able to produce 3.6 tons of crops. Since then, Panasonic has increased square footage and crop yield considerably. With 20 workers, the farm is now able to produce 81 tons of greens annually. While this is a considerable yield by any measure, it amounts to just .015% of Singapore’s total cultivated crops. The goal is to eventually scale the operation to produce 5% of domestic crops annually.
Panasonic’s warehouse now grows 40 different crops (Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, mini red radishes, among others). By next month, the farm intends to begin cultivating 30 additional varieties. The farm’s brand Veggie Life has been selling greens to grocery stores ($5 for a 3-ounce bowl of salad). As of December 2016, greens are now sold directly to local restaurants.
So you may be wondering – why is Panasonic doing this? Farming seems so unrelated to their other electronics businesses. The answer is, not really. Panasonic’s Factory Solutions division sees value in this indoor farming project, and a potentially profitable extension of their expertise with engineering and manufacturing.
Alfred Tham – of Panasonic’s Agriculture Business Division – stated: “We foresee this business to be a potential growth portfolio, given the global shortage of arable land, increasing populations, climate change, and demand for high quality and stable food supply.” We think he is on the right track.
So how does Panasonic grow their crops? By using vertical farming techniques, indoor agriculture has numerous advantage over conventional (horizontal) farm. Vertical farming enables higher yield and overall efficiencies, and is the most sensible manner in which to farm in contained spaces like warehouses (or even inside homes). Although most of today’s vertical farms use hydroponics (no soil), Panasonic uses soil and nutrient-rich water to feed their plants. But what is most crucial to indoor farming success is the light. Since warehouses receive little to no sunlight, LED lighting is crucial to the plants survival.
All plants at Panasonic’s farm are kept under LED grow lights. These LED lights operate within the warehouse 24-7 and illuminate at specific frequencies to encourage rapid growth. Similar to hydroponic growing, conditions at the warehouse are tightly controlled by the farm workers, ensuring temperatures, oxygen and pH levels are kept at optimal levels. Indoor agriculture (and hydroponics) is entirely dependent on the conditions provided by the grower, whereas outdoor growing is much more dependent on the whims of Mother Nature. Thus, strict monitoring – or automated technology – must be in place to have a successful crop. If the right indoor conditions are providing for, agriculture is at its most efficient state with vertical agriculture.
Panasonic recognizes this. They foresee societal benefits – as well as profitable opportunities – with vertical farming. If their experiment in Singapore is successful, this could have widespread implications. Wouldn’t it be great to see vertical farms spring up all over the world? We feel that fresh, locally-grown produce should be accessible to everyone in these modern times. Vertical farming is one step in the right direction.
Many believe this type of farming is the future of agriculture. We wish the best of luck to Panasonic!