Electronics giant sets up farm in Singapore

Cheryl Faith Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Aug 14;

Electronics giant Panasonic has set up an indoor farm here to supply local restaurants and retailers with vegetables such as lettuce and radishes.

The farm occupies 248 sq m of its factory building in Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim in Jurong - equivalent to two five-room HDB flats.

Its crops are grown without pesticides and are not genetically modified. They are housed within an enclosed space where conditions such as light, temperature and humidity are created artificially and controlled. It was set up last September and began supplying Japanese restaurant chain Ootoya with lettuce, potherb mustard and radishes in April.

Today three Ootoya restaurants will add four items made mainly with these ingredients to the menu. Ootoya pays Panasonic up to 50 per cent less than it would to a Japanese supplier to get about 300kg of vegetables.

Its senior executive director Hiroaki Hamada said they are more "crunchy and fresh", adding: "The biggest benefits would be stability of supply and quality. Getting produce locally also helps reduce the impact of food scares abroad."

By the first quarter of 2016, Panasonic aims to supply supermarkets here with local produce. Certain vegetable varieties such as mizuna and mitsuba may also be available at up to half the price of Japanese imports.

At Japanese supermarket Medi-ya, a packet of mizuna weighing about 100g costs $7.90.

Mr Hideki Baba, managing director of Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific, said: "We want to contribute to Singapore's self- sufficiency in leafy vegetables and can utilise our automation systems to do so. We foresee potential growth in agribusiness for our portfolio here."

Mr Baba added that agribusiness is likely to make up a big part of company revenue here by 2017.

In Japan, the potential revenue has reportedly also drawn other electronics firms such as Fujitsu and Sharp into agribusiness.

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), 8 per cent of leafy vegetables eaten here are grown locally. Some 10,308 tonnes were produced by farms here last year.

Panasonic's farm - the only indoor soil-based vegetable farm licensed here - has a production capacity of 3.6 tonnes per year but this will rise to 1,000 per year by 2017 through methods such as vertical farming and reducing the cultivation time of crops. It will also expand its variety of vegetables from 10 to more than 30.

Another high-tech farm here, Sky Greens, also hopes to supply vegetables like spinach to supermarkets by the end of this year.

Local produce has got the thumbs up from consumers. Pastry sales executive Lee Si Han, 28, said: "It will help reduce carbon footprint... Imported vegetables suffer a lot on their way here - they get bruised. Local ones will be fresher."

Electronics giant Panasonic wants Singaporeans to eat its veg
Aradhana Aravindan Reuters 3 Aug 14;

(Reuters) - Japan's Panasonic Corp, best known for its television sets and home theater systems, wants to feed Singaporeans its radishes and lettuce.

A unit of the electronics conglomerate last week started selling to a chain of Japanese restaurants in Singapore fresh produce grown in what it says is the first licensed indoor vegetable farm in the island state.

The move ties Panasonic's deeper push into farming technology with land-scarce Singapore's ambition to reduce its near-total reliance on food imports.

"We foresee agriculture to be a potential growth portfolio, given the global shortage of arable land, climate change and increasing demand for quality food as well as stable food supply," Hideki Baba, managing director of Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific, told reporters.

The facility, which presently has a small production capacity of 3.6 tonnes annually, produces 10 types of vegetables such as mini red radishes and baby spinach.

Indoor farming has found favor with other hi-tech Japanese companies as well. Fujitsu Ltd is growing lettuce at its Fukushima province plant, while Sharp Corp is testing growing strawberries indoors in Dubai.

In Singapore, Panasonic's 248 square meter farm is located inside a factory building on the outskirts of the city, where standard fluorescent lighting gives way to a pinkish-purple glow from LED lights brought in to nurture the plants. The company restricts visitors to maintain the controlled levels of temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide.

It aims to grow more than 30 crop varieties by March 2017 and account for around 5 percent of local vegetable production. It said the vegetables grown at its facility could be half the price of those flown in from Japan.

Panasonic said Singapore was ideal for its indoor farm due to the country's low food self-sufficiency and limited land.

Singapore, ranked by the World Bank as the second most densely populated country, imports more than 90 percent of its food.

Singapore produced nearly 22,000 tonnes of vegetables in 2013, compared with a little more than 17,000 tonnes in 2004, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. Last year it imported 514,574 tonnes of vegetables.

While Singapore ranks fifth out of 109 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit's global food security index, the government wants to diversify its food sources and become more self reliant in producing eggs, fish and leafy vegetables.

As part of its efforts, it has provided some funding and research support to local vertical farming company Sky Greens, which grows leafy vegetables at its farm in three-storey high frames inside greenhouses.

The farm currently has 600 such towers and intends to expand to 2,000 by next year. It can produce up to one tonne of vegetables a day, which it sells to local supermarket FairPrice. Some farms in Singapore are also using aeroponics or hydroponics - growing plants without soil.

Agro-technology expert Lee Sing Kong said Singapore can improve its food security for perishable items like vegetables, which cannot be stored for long periods unlike grains, by using new techniques of cultivation to increase productivity.

"We must grow some of our own in order to provide a kind of buffer during the period when supply has been disrupted," said Lee, a professor of biological sciences at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

Still, some locally grown produce comes at a premium. At FairPrice, Sky Greens' nai bai vegetable retails at more than double the price of an import from China.

(1 US dollar = 1.2470 Singapore dollar)

(Additional reporting by Sophie Knight in TOKYO; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Emily Kaiser)