Economy, Sci & Tech

Japan Launches 1st Automated Farm

Japan Launches 1st Automated FarmJapan Launches 1st Automated Farm

Japanese vertical farming setup, Spread Company, has begun construction on what it called the world’s first large-scale vegetable factory.

The facility will be fully automated from the seeding process to harvesting 30,000 heads of lettuce per day.

The company currently operates a facility in the city of Kameoka that uses artificial lighting and vertical farming techniques to produce four types of lettuce that are shipped to as many as 2,000 stores in Tokyo and the country’s Kansai region.

As a result of its success with the smaller plant, Spread is expanding to a 4,800-square-meter facility, which is slightly smaller than the average soccer pitch, Clean Tech Canada writes.

“There are water and food shortages due to extreme weather events accompanied by the increasing global population. Amid these problems, Spread has effectively managed energy through the vegetable factory business and has been working to lay the foundation for a more secure and sustainable society,” the company said.

The new Kyoto facility is expected to cost approximately 2 billion yen, or about $22 million, and open in 2017.

Water recycling and reduced labor costs are the facility’s two most significant selling points. Spread says it is able to recycle 98% of the water used for cultivation, while cutting labor costs by 50% through automation.

The facility also uses state-of-the-art LED lighting to minimize electricity costs. The company says the technology can be utilized worldwide. Regions such as Japan with little land available for agriculture are likely to be the early adopters of the technology.

And despite being incorporated less than 10 years ago, Spread has ambitious expansion plans. The company hopes the new factory kickstarts further expansion. It plans to produce 500,000 heads of lettuce per day by 2020.

Japanese companies are not the only vertical farmers, however. Vancouver-based VertiCrop is currently pursuing funding to build a facility and expand the technology’s use in North America.

Iran is still in the very early stages of artificial farming with only a handful of companies looking into the industry. Thanks to the number of daylight hours it receives through the year, plants grow with no problem.

However, water scarcity and drought have made conventional methods of farming expensive and wasteful.