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UK to host the world’s first robotic fruit farm

UK to host the world’s first robotic fruit farm


Innovate UK has announced that the country is to be the venue of the world’s first robotic farm at Clock House Farm in Kent., following the confirmation of funding to the tune of £2.5 million. Robot Highways is a project that aims to ensure industry sustainability by addressing labour shortages, the need for global food production and reduce the environmental impact of the farming sector. The consortium responsible of delivering Robot Highways includes Berry Gardens, Saga Robotics, the University of Lincoln, the University of Reading, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, BT, and strawberry grower Clock House Farm.

The project will receive nearly £2.5m to perform the biggest-known demonstration of robotics and autonomous technologies, which will The trial will set out to deliver a vision for the future of soft-fruit growing, where robots will assist growers by carrying out essential, energy-intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce pests and diseases, powered by renewable energy. The project is also aimed at increasing industrial sustainability by reducing reliance on seasonal labour by reducing labour requirements by an estimated 40%.

Robot Highways also constitutes a move towards a carbon-zero future, with an estimated 20% reduction in fruit waste, 90% reduction in fungicide use, a huge reduction in the use of fossil fuel across all farm logistic operations and a 15% increase in farm productivity.

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies will be harnessed, and improvements will be made to telecommunications infrastructure in rural settings.

UK Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, said, “It’s great to see investment in these outstanding ideas which will help us tackle the farming industry’s greatest challenges, from achieving net-zero emissions to investing in sustainable alternative protein for animal feed. Farming has never before been at the centre of such exciting and forward-looking innovations.”

Oli Pascall, managing director at Clock House Farm, said, “Clock House Farm is very excited to be part of the consortium and the demonstration farm for the project, which will help us with our ambition to be an innovative leader in our sector.”


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Japan plans fully robotic lettuce farm by 2017

Capable of supplying 30,000 heads of lettuce a day, Japanes company Spread says its 4,800m2 ‘large-scale vegetable factory’ will be “fully automated from seeding to harvest.”

Kyoto-based firm Spread plans to open what has been dubbed the world’s first fully robotic farm.

Capable of supplying 30,000 heads of lettuce a day, the company says its 4,800m2 ‘large-scale vegetable factory’ will be “fully automated from seeding to harvest.” This complete automation of the cultivation process will slash labour costs in half, it said in a press release.

Focused on global expansion, Spread hopes to extend its production to 500,000 heads of lettuce per day in five years “and will continue to expand our vegetable factory business domestically and internationally.”

Founded in 2006, in Kameoka in Kyoto, Spread already operates what it calls the world’s largest vegetable factory using artificial lighting, which grows four types of lettuce for a total 21,000 heads per day. It provides year-round supply to about 2,000 stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region via the brand “Vegetus”.

Spread produces several types of lettuce under the brand name “Vegetus” (its brand for vegetables cultivated in its vegetable factories) and says it sells them to department stores, major grocery stores, hotels, restaurant, and amusement parks around Japan.

Construction of the vertical farm – at a full investment of up to about 2 million yen (€14.6m) – is due to start in Kizugawa, Kyoto, next spring with the first shipments in summer 2017. From the estimated production capacity of 10 million heads of lettuce a year, Spread estimates annual sales of about 1 million yen.

Environmentally friendly features of the ‘next-generation’ factory are to include recycling of 98% of the water used for cultivation and a system of environmental control making the factory extremely energy efficient.