You’d be forgiven if you didn’t realize you were at a farm at first glance in the old Sony factory in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture that has been reborn as the Mirai lettuce farm – an indoor farm. Farmworkers are dressed in white lab coats and face masks to maintain the sterile environment that helps to ensure optimal freshness of the produce grown. It is the largest of its kind at 25 thousand square feet.
The keys to indoor farming lie in managing the climate with a high degree of precision to ensure the stability of both the growing and the housing environment.
• Humidity is carefully monitored and managed.
• Plants are grown hydroponically rather than using soil, which itself can damage the indoor environment. Nutrients and fertilising agents are absorbed through recycled water in a controlled system.
Ten thousand heads of lettuce are shipped out each day. In published interviews, the company’s president says that Mirai’s lettuce grows more than twice as fast as lettuce grown outdoors while using only 1% of the water. The company claims there are distinct advantages to their indoor farming operation:
• Accelerated maturation: LED lighting is programmed to adjust automatically to maximize photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night. Artificially accelerated maturation can boost crop yields by up to 50%.
• Being able to control growing conditions so precisely that the lettuce contains much more beta-carotene and twice the vitamin C, calcium and magnesium of conventionally grown lettuce.
While it’s the largest, the former Sony facility is not the only indoor – or enclosed – farming operation in Japan, nor is Sony the only electronics giant in the business. There are 380 such agribusiness operations that raise lettuce, spinach and strawberries among other types of produce in converted Fujitsu, Toshiba and Panasonic factories.
Mirai runs 25 factories, with plans to open more in Mongolia, Hong Kong, Russia and China as well as to expand the concept to a wider variety of crops.
Water stewardship has been a hot topic in recent years . Overall, the agribusiness industry accounts for about 70 per cent of water use and there is a great deal of waste in traditional irrigation methods. As available arable land and fresh water supplies continue to dwindle in the 21st century and with a global population that’s expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, many experts believe the indoor farm is a taste of things to come.
At LImoneira, we have always understood the great importance of using resources wisely. Our farming operations use a drip irrigation (or micro-irrigation) system that produces virtually no waste or run-off, saving water as it protects the surrounding environment.