Monday, October 12, 2015

A Fully Mechanized, Indoor Farm: an Opportunity or a Threat?

For my previous blog posts, I have been putting up information that are either too scientific or too idealistic. So, with regards to that sentiment, allow me to share an interesting news that I read earlier this week. The news reported that by 2017, Japan will open the first and only fully mechanized lettuce farm. This is certainly a fascinating news for us, the environment, and the agricultural world to hear and read. The farm will be built in Kizugawa, Kyoto, and has a production capacity to grow 22,000 lettuce heads EACH day. The company representative highlights some advantages to growing lettuce indoor with fully automated machines as compared to traditional soil-based farming.

First, the production is able to reduce labor cost by 50 percent. Why only 50 percent if the process is fully automated? Well, of course we need humans to control, supervise, and repair any damages to the machines. Second, not only does this idea beneficial to the company in terms of profits, but also for the environment. The farm will recycle 98 percent of water used for cultivation due to the machine's efficiency in reducing water wastage. Not only that, the computers can also regulate lighting, temperature, water quality, carbon dioxide level, moisture, and water quality to ensure high quality harvests and decent growth rate. Third, indoor farming will reduce contaminants present in harvested lettuce as human's exposure is much lesser and the use of pesticides/insecticides is completely removed from the procedure. Lastly, since Kyoto is located near the recently devastated nuclear plant, the soil, water, and air are most likely contaminated with high concentration of toxic radioactive chemicals. As such, conventional agricultural practice is not a viable option anymore, and the idea of having indoor cultivation is highly probable and necessary in order to provide sufficient food for the local communities.

However, the company only presents one side of the story; an unbalanced view of the idea. From what I can see, there are several threats or drawbacks from realizing such ambitious plan. Aside from the potential uprising of Artificially Intelligence (AI) units to take over humanity, the capital costs are considerably high as the company needs to invest approximately $16.6 millions in machinery alone. In addition, the energy consumption of indoor gardening is projected to be extremely high, way higher than greenhouse farming. If this indoor-gardening concept is accepted and proven to be profitable, then many companies will eventually follow suit, increasing the demand for energy dramatically. With surging energy consumption, many more highly-efficient power plants will be built, and nuclear power plant is currently one of the best alternatives to satisfy high energy demand.

Every coin has two sides, just like every decision has both opportunities and threats. Although the idea is extremely viable and beneficial, we cannot close one eye to the possible threats and consequences. If the Japanese can manage to minimize the possible negative implications, then this idea can become a huge leap to our current perceptions of agriculture; redefining entirely the concept of the agricultural system.

Hale, T. (2015, October 9). Japan Will Open A Fully Robotic Lettuce Farm By 2017. Retrieved from

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