Room to grow more local veggies at Panasonic's farm

Singapore farm now yields 40 varieties, aims to more than double production
Hedy Khoo Straits Times 10 Jul 17;

Consumers here can look forward to more home-grown leafy greens from Panasonic, which plans to expand its high-tech indoor vegetable farm and more than double its production by next year.

The Japanese electronics giant is also looking into cultivating seasonal fruit usually grown in temperate climates.

It runs a 1,154 sq m indoor farm, about the size of 11/2 soccer fields, at Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia-Pacific's premises in Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim.

The farm produces up to 40 crop varieties, amounting to 81 tonnes of vegetables annually.

Plans are under way to increase farm size to 1,710 sq m, which will allow it to produce up to 180 tonnes at optimum capacity. The cultivated varieties include mizuna, oba, leafy lettuce, mini red radish, Swiss chard and baby spinach.

Mr Paul Wong, managing director of Panasonic Singapore, said the company embarked on vertical farming as a viable and efficient means of producing vegetables in a limited space.

Mr Wong said: "We started with eight types of crops. Through constant research and development, we now produce 40 varieties of leafy greens and we want to expand that list with seasonal fruits.

"Increasing our overall crop production is also in line with our goal to contribute to Singapore's food security through a stable local supply of leafy greens."

Latest figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that last year, 11,300 tonnes of vegetables were locally produced, which accounts for 12 per cent of the total vegetable supply. Singapore imports over 90 per cent of its food supply.

Mr Melvin Chow, group director of AVA's Food Supply Resilience Group, said local food production provides a crucial buffer in the event of disruptions in overseas food supply.

The AVA encourages the use of technology that can help local farms optimise land use, boost capability and raise production.

Mr Chow said: "The most important step is for our industry to adopt a progressive mindset and improve productivity."

Panasonic's indoor vegetable farm was the first of its kind to be licensed by the AVA in 2013.

It utilises both soil cultivation and hydroponics. No pesticides are used. Seeding and potting are automated, which doubles productivity compared with traditional farming methods. An intelligent lighting system using LED lights helps to accelerate plant growth.

Through a system of automated irrigation, controlled temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide, the farm is able to increase crop growth and achieve a high yield rate of 95 per cent.

The farm is also licensed by the AVA to process salads. Panasonic produces three ready-to-eat salad mixes, which are sold at major supermarkets. It also supplies vegetables to hotels, restaurants and catering companies.

Japanese restaurant chain Ootoya placed its first order of vegetables with Panasonic in 2014.

Mr Yusuke Shimizu, 39, managing director of Ootoya Asia-Pacific, said: "Our customers... complimented us on the freshness and some even asked us where to buy the vegetables."

Ootoya orders an average of 150kg of vegetables from Panasonic every month for its three outlets. Mr Shimizu said: "Freshness is a priority at our restaurants and Panasonic supplies us with vegetables that are harvested on the same day."