Vertical farming boosts production of vegetables in Singapore

Jason Tan Channel NewsAsia 28 Jan 11;

SINGAPORE : Singapore has successfully developed a vertical farming system prototype, which could help the land-scarce Republic maximise its production of leafy vegetables.

Vertical farming is a technique of producing agricultural products at multiple levels, conserving land space in the process.

A six-metre tall structure rotates at one millimetre per second, distributing sunlight to all the plants.

Water powers the system and is constantly being recycled, keeping energy consumption low.

The system is also affordable too. One of the frames costs about S$10,000.

The prototype was developed by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and private firm DJ Engineering.

During his visit to the farm, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said he is impressed with the system.

Mr Mah said: "It can produce about five times the output of a normal farm, using the same area - per square metre of space, it's actually able to produce five times (more). So it's very suitable for Singapore's condition.

"So far, very encouraging. And hopefully, this will then be expanded and help us to achieve our target - we're trying to achieve 10 per cent local production of leafy vegetables."

Mr Mah and other visitors also had a chance to sample some of the vegetables.

Owner of DJ Engineering, Jack Ng, has set up the company Sky Greens to drive the commercialisation of vertical farming.

Sky Greens expects the first crop of produce from the system to be available in major supermarkets by this year.

- CNA/al

Veggies from a vertical farm
Esther Ng Today Online 29 Jan 11;

SINGAPORE - Vertical farming has become a reality here, after DJ Engineering and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) successfully developed a prototype that could help land-scarce Singapore maximise its production of leafy vegetables.

Vegetables can now be grown in a six-metre-tall tower: Exposure to sunlight is optimised when rainwater collected in an overhead reservoir flows down through pipes, powering a wheel which rotates the stacks of vegetables a millimetre per second.

DJ Engineering's managing director Jack Ng said the potential output of this system is at least five times more than that of conventional soil-based farming. For instance, a five hectare plot using this system can produce at least 2,500 tonnes of leafy vegetables compared with 500 tonnes from a conventional farm.

Moreover, the tower has a low carbon footprint - the pump that pushes water up to a holding tank at the top of the structure uses only one kilowatt per hour.

Mr Ng has set up a company, Sky Greens, to sell these towers for around $10,000 each. Each tower comes in 22 or 26 stacks.

Sky Greens is in the process of applying for 3.5 hectares of land in the Lim Chu Kang Agrotechnology Park to grow vegetables. It expects to put its first crop of Chinese cabbage, lettuce and kai lan on supermarket shelves this year.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan visited the prototype at the Sembawang Research Station yesterday.

Said Mr Mah: "So far, very encouraging. And, hopefully, this will be expanded and help us to achieve our target of 10 per cent local production of leafy vegetables."

The figure currently stands at 7 per cent. There are 37 leafy vegetable farms here and production has been steady, 8,300 tonnes in 2006 to 7,100 tonnes from January to September last year.

On Friday, this newspaper reported that farmers from the Kranji Countryside Association were concerned about the lack of young blood joining the farming industry.

In response, Mr Mah said he would "support" the move by farmers here to encourage young people to take up farming. Said Mr Mah: "Governments cannot force you to go into something you're not interested in."

What might work better was to nurture an interest in nature, Mr Mah noted.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the AVA told MediaCorp that, while land will be set aside for some local production of key food items, some existing farmland - due to land scarcity - may be required to "meet other needs of our population when their leases end".

The agencies said: "If the farmland is not needed for other purposes, we can continue to put them to interim farm use."

Most of the farms in Singapore are located in Lim Chu Kang. Many of the farms there have leases ranging from two to 11 years. The agencies said they will study the leases for the Lim Chu Kang farms and may consider extension of the leases on a case-by-case basis. Where possible, SLA will work with the URA and the AVA to consider two- to three-year lease extensions.

Rooftop farming a possibility: Mah Bow Tan
Esther Ng Today Online 29 Jan 11;

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said he would consider rooftop farming - an idea mooted a decade ago by Dr Ngiam Tong Tau, then head of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) - but he pointed out that there were other competing uses such as recreation and solar panels.

He added that rooftop farming might not be suitable for a commercial building because of the air-conditioning plants on the roof.

As for aquaponics - growing plants or vegetables and fish in a contained system with fish waste as fertiliser - Mr Mah said that a number of companies here had tried it but there were "issues" to be resolved.

One of them was taste, he noted, though that could be overcome by educating consumers.

Mr Mah said that Singapore was not able to meet its earlier target of 20 per cent for green vegetable production because the amount of land for agriculture could not be spared under the island's masterplan for land use.

The AVA hopes to strengthen Singapore's food resilience by raising local production of fish to 15 per cent, eggs to 30 per cent and leafy vegetables to 10 per cent of consumption here.

Currently, the local production of fish, eggs and leafy vegetables makes up 4 per cent, 23 per cent and 7 per cent respectively of total local consumption.

Vertical farm produces 5 times more vegetables
Novel device could help land-scarce S'pore meet food production targets
Jessica Lim Straits Times 29 Jan 11;

THERE is now a new way to farm vegetables in land-scarce Singapore: farm skywards.

A private engineering company, D.J. Engineering, has teamed up with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to come up with a device that can grow at least five times as many vegetables as conventional farming methods are able to given the same land area.

The device is 6m tall with tiers of planting troughs which rotate around an aluminium frame to provide the plants with uniform sunlight.

A water-pulley system, using rainwater collected in overhead reservoirs, rotates the troughs.

Harvests - of leafy vegetables like xiao bai cai and bayam - have already been made at a prototype 1,000 sq m vertical farm set up a year ago at AVA's Sembawang Research Centre. The farm employs 19 of these structures.

None of the vegetables is sold at supermarkets or restaurants here yet but will be at year end, if all goes as planned.

The project is budgeted to cost about $1 million, an amount borne entirely by D.J. Engineering, which set up a company, Sky Greens, to produce the vegetables commercially and market the vertical farming system.

With the turbulence in food supply and prices in recent years exposing the island state's vulnerability, such moves should mitigate supply shortages and hoarding in the long term.

'We cannot depend totally on imports. We are a land-scarce country and therefore we need to be able to maximise use of our land in the area of food production,' said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan at the launch of the prototype farm yesterday, adding that local production acts as a buffer against severe disruptions in food supply.

'Farming leafy vegetables tends to be very land-intensive so innovative systems like this can improve the productivity of local farms,' the minister said.

Such projects, he said, would also help the Republic meet its targets for local food production.

The target is for the local supply of leafy vegetables - produced by 37 vegetable farms here - to hit 10 per cent of local consumption in three years, from about 7 per cent currently. Local production stood at 9,800 tonnes in 2009.

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food from suppliers from over 30 countries.

Mr Jack Ng, the owner of D.J. Engineering, said he has been sending samples of the leafy vegetables to restaurants and supermarkets. Feedback, he said, has been positive.

'They say the vegetables are crunchier,' he said, adding that plans are under way to start a 3.5ha vertical farm in Lim Chu Kang and to sell the structures to other farmers and individuals.

The 48-year-old, who also designs buildings, is in the process of patenting his invention. The father of two, who dropped out of school after Secondary 4, came up with the idea during the financial crunch in 2009.

'Food prices were going up because of supply disruptions overseas, so I had the idea of growing more food here,' he said, adding that he was also friends with some farmers who helped him to develop the idea. It took him two years.

The vertically farmed vegetables, he said, would be priced at the same levels as those grown at conventional farms due to increased productivity and low operational costs.

Operational costs include raw materials like soil and seed and electricity to pump the water driving the structures. But electricity costs will come to only $3.50 per month per structure, he said.

The owner of restaurant Da Pao in Amoy Street serving home-grown food, Ms Christina Crane, 39, said she was hooked once she tried a sample of the vegetables: 'I looked at it and the vegetables looked really green. The taste is beautiful and it doesn't wilt in sauce.'

Others, like vegetable farmer Wong Kok Fah, 49, are excited too. The owner of an 8ha farm in Chua Chu Kang growing cai xin and xiao bai cai said he has appealed to the Government numerous times for more land to expand.

'We are always looking for more land, and we will definitely consider anything that can increase our productivity,' he said, adding that his farm is operating at maximum capacity.