© Thomas Samson, AFP
UK retailer Marks & Spencer have extended their indoor farms to six other stores in London. In partnership with vertical farming specialist, Infarm, M&S has installed hydroponic indoor units that incorporate machine learning, Internet of Things technology, and eco-controlled systems to ensure the optimum amount of light, air and nutrients are used. Growing a selection of herbs, each unit can be controlled remotely via a cloud-based platform, which learns, adjusts and continually improves to ensure each plant grows better than the last one.
Infarm’s solutions offer environmental benefits, as each unit consumes 95% less water and 75% less fertiliser than soil-based agriculture. Each unit produces the equivalent size crop to 400 square metres of farmland, with absolutely no pesticide use. M&S has announced that it plans to continue rolling out in-store farms over the coming months.
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.