As the global population has continued to skyrocket, there have been numerous attempts to innovate in farming in order to feed this growing population.
What began with GM crops quickly moved into areas such as vertical farming, wearable devices for livestock, and even food grown in a petri dish. There has also been the spread of automation in the food production process.
I wrote earlier this year about the rising use of drones on our farms, with devices capable of checking soil quality, crop growth, and all manner of other aspects of farm work.
A Japanese firm are arguably taking things a step further however by replacing all farm workers entirely. The vertical farm is hoping to grow 10 million heads of lettuce a year without a single human being involved.
The whole process of growing the lettuce will be automated, from germination through to harvesting and delivery. Spread, the company behind the farm, believe it will boost production by 25%.
The company is no stranger to ‘artificial’ farming. It’s vast vertical farm in Kameoka already produces nearly 8 million heads of lettuce a year. The new factory will ramp things up considerably however, and construction is due to begin next spring.
It should be said that whilst much of the work in the facility will be automated, there is still a requirement for humans to be present. For instance, seeding is still required to be done by human hands due to the fragile nature of the seedlings.
The benefits of vertical farms
Vertical farming can offer numerous benefits, as they are obviously not susceptible to many of the environmental challenges presented to regular, outdoor farms.
The indoor environment also means that the crops are protected from various diseases and therefore pesticides that can destroy regular crops.
With some 8 million heads of lettuce produced each year in facilities like this by the company, with those products then sold in over 2,000 stores around Japan, the concept is clearly one that is OK with the Japanese public.
The commercial aspects of the process are evident. Even before the automation makes things cheaper, the company is able to monitor the whole photosynthesis process incredibly closely. They claim therefore that they can grow lettuce roughly 2.5 times as fast as on an outdoor farm, largely because the produce can continue growing at night as well as during the day.
That the concept hasn’t really gained widespread popularity probably goes to the particularities of how we view food. With such a rapidly expanding population however, it seems inevitable that such approaches will grow in popularity.