The New Farm in Town – Plant Factory
We are living in the era of advanced technology where in every part of our daily life is penetrated by it in some or the other way. Various types of factories equipped with cutting edge technologies are built to produce everything that is essential for our living but have you heard of plant factories?
What Are Plant Factories?
Plant factories are literally the facilities to produce plants in large scale. It is a system that artificially creates an optimized environment conducive for plant growth. High-quality greens can be produced indoor all year round regardless of the seasons. This is all made viable through the control of cultivation environment such as light, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration and culture solution, allowing growers to plan production.
The word “factory” means a building where goods are manufactured. In this case, it is to produce plants. Perhaps, you might be asking what are the buildings suitable to be served as plant factories. Any unused space such as warehouses or factories are great spots to be converted into factories growing plants.
A classic example is the 25,000 square foot (roughly half a football field) indoor farm which was previously a Sony semiconductor plant in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It was converted into an indoor farm by plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura in year 2014, capable of producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day.
How Plant Factories Work?
In plant factories, plants are grown in stacks just like how humans live in multi-levels condominium. It maximises the space to grow plants and subsequently increases the production. The system used in growing the leafy greens can be either hydroponics or aeroponics – a system without soil. Plants absorb the nutrients essential for their growth from the nutrient solution supplied through hydroponics or aeroponics system.
As we all know, green plants need lights to perform photosynthesis in order to synthesise food from carbon dioxide and water. How do plants obtain lights necessary for their growth if they are grown indoor? It’s simple. By using LED lights that provide the optimal spectrum for plants to grow efficiently.
Since plants are grown indoor without soil, they will not be threatened by any insects, thus no pesticides are required. Moreover, there will be no uptake of heavy metals from the soil by plants growing hydroponically.
To ensure a clean environment for plant growth, everyone who enters the plant factory must wear a set of special attire that includes gloves, surgical masks and sort of dust proof protective suits to avoid bringing along contaminants into the factory. Therefore, plants can grow healthily in plant factories under parameters that favour them.
Additionally, plant factories can be located in the city or any urban area to facilitate fresh produce deliveries to cafes, restaurants and even home users. This way, the consumers are able to taste the freshness from the greens that have been harvested on the same day itself.
Plant factories are the future of farming. A market research report from Wintergreen Research indicates that the plant factory market will reach a total estimated value of USD1.97 billion by 2020. This sector gains traction in the recent years due to a problem that persists in the current world – food crisis.
Increased demand from developing economies, rising fuel prices and poor weather ruining harvests are some of the reasons that cause consumers to pay more for basic staples.
In Malaysia, most of the vegetables we consume are grown using the traditional soil-based method. We cannot control the rainfall and sunlight of our tropical climate. Oftentimes, vegetables will have problems to grow during draughts and rainy season as water is one of the critical factors that affects plant growth. If there is too much water, the roots of plants will rot whereas too less water will cause poor absorption of nutrients. Thus, the prices of vegetables will spike during these seasons due to low supplies.
Other than water and sunlight, food security as in whether the food we grow is safe for eating, is another problem that the world is currently facing.
Vegetables grown via soil-based method in open areas will attract insects feeding on them. How to prevent the insects from eating the leafy greens? One rapid and effective way is to spray pesticides that could possibly harm human health. Children, and indeed any young and developing organisms, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides. Even very low levels of exposure during development may have adverse health effects.
Scientists have found out that pesticide exposure can cause a range of neurological health effects such as memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced visual ability and altered or uncontrollable mood and general behaviour. Exposure to pesticide is also associated to increased risk of Parkinson disease and Alzheimer's disease in adults as well as autism in children.
Other possible health effects include asthma, allergies and hypersensitivity. Pesticide exposure is also linked with cancer, hormone disruption and problems with reproduction and foetal development in pregnant women.
All these factors are the driving forces for plant factories to be the future farming method that not only provides food security but also prevents food crisis.
At Vegetory, we care for our health and the health of our future generations. That is why we grow vegetables in plant factories where the environment is clean with zero pesticide usage. We want to share our love and care as a grower to all of you who care for the food you and your family are consuming every day.