Four years ago Takayoshi Tanizawa was developing massage armchairs in Panasonic’s research centre when his boss offered him a new adventure : agriculture. A few days ago the engineer celebrated the first sales of spinach grown on a model farm made using Panasonic’s high-tech. “After all, its almost the same thing. It’s a game of pumps and motors” he says.
On a narrow terrain, the group built three electronically controlled greenhouses where the vegetables growing rates are permanently controlled by humidity, heat and light captors. According to these measures, the greenhouses modify, on their own, the volume of air, water and the opening degrees of the blinds.
In exchange for the investment of about €37,000 per greenhouse, Panasonic promises 8 harvests instead of the usual 5 in a region that has suffered from very hot summers over the last decade or so.
Whilst they are overtaken on the electronic consumer products market by South Koreans, Samsung and LG, many Japanese electronic giants are currently exploring the agricultural high-tech market, convinced that it could be a new motor for growth.
Toshiba has just launched an experimental farm in Yokosuka. The “farmers” work in surgeons overalls on chard, spinach and mizuna that are grown on polystyrene sheets on top of fertilised water. Pesticides are not needed in these enclosed, clean spaces.
Toshiba hope to produce €2 million of vegetables per year in their “farm of the future” and to export the concept abroad, especially to zones known to be difficult for farming. Sharp, the inventor of the LCD, is testing their strawberry site in Dubai, where LED lights diffuse a purple light that encourages photosynthesis. A bigger factory could be opened by Spring 2016 in the UAE to supply the regional market that appreciates the particularly sweet Japanese strawberries.