Wednesday 17 December 2014

Indoor vegetable farm produces nutrient-dense produce 250 percent faster than outdoor farms, with less waste

The future of food production could end up doing away with the growing fields and even the sun. A Japanese plant physiologist has developed an indoor growing system that he says produces lettuce 250 percent faster than traditional farms, requires far less water and generates significantly less produce waste.

Using LED technology developed by the GE corporation, Shigeharu Shimamura was able to create a 25,000 square foot indoor space that currently houses 18 cultivation racks for growing lettuce. These racks are 15 stories high and contain a total of 17,500 LED lights specially designed for the optimal growing of lettuce.

The proprietary lighting system mimics the day and night cycle of the real outdoors, but at a highly accelerated pace. Together with carefully controlled climate and moisture conditions, Shimamura and GE were able to fine-tune a complex system that generates large amounts of healthy food very quickly, without producing significant amounts of waste.

"I knew how to grow good vegetables biologically and I wanted to integrate that knowledge with hardware to make things happen," he explained to GE Reports.

Indoor produce farm generating 10,000 heads of lettuce daily

Having gotten the idea from a "vegetable factory" that was featured at the Expo '85 world's fair in Tsukuba when he was just a teenager, Shimamura had ever since been inspired to start his own indoor growing facility. And after the Fukushima disaster of 2011, he finally got his chance.

According to GE Reports, Shimamura was able to turn a former Sony Corporation semiconductor factory in eastern Japan's Miyagi Prefecture, which was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, into the world's largest indoor growing farm. And today, this farm produces an astounding 10,000 heads of lettuce daily, with an average loss of only 10 percent of the harvest.

A typical outdoor produce farm, on the other hand, loses up to 50 percent of its harvest, representing a 400 percent reduction in waste. Beyond this, the specialized temperature and humidity conditions inside the farm require just 1 percent of the total amount of water typically required for outdoor growing operations.

All these tweaks have created ideal growing conditions that Shimamura says have resulted in a 100-fold increase in productivity. This means 100 times more food can be grown in the relatively small indoor space he created compared to outdoor grow operations, which are still threatened by residual radiation contamination.

"What we need to do is not just [set] up more days and nights," he stated. "We want to achieve the best combination of photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night by controlling the lighting and the environment."

Are indoor produce 'farms' the future of food for planet Earth?

For GE Japan, the technology offers hope for humanity moving into the future. The drastic improvements in yield and productivity offered by Shimamura's concept stand to address the world's growing food shortage problems, particularly in the face of drought and other similar challenges.

Since its LED technology is working so well at maximizing the growth rate of lettuce, this due to its ability to produce light at wavelengths ideal for plant growth, GE Japan is already working on similar growing facilities both in Hong Kong and the Far East of Russia. Together, the duo hopes to bring real change to those in need.

"Finally, we are about to start the real agricultural industrialization," said Shimamura with confidence.

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