By David Proenza
This is Post #2 of three posts on the Foundations trip to Asia. After our visit to several companies and University in Holland we traveled to Taiwan. For more information on the Europe trip see post #1.
We had a great visit with Dr. Wei Fang of the National Taiwan University and witnessed their advancements in plant production in a controlled Plant Factory. We also had the opportunity to visit private companies advancing in this field and attended the Taipei International Plant Factory & Greenhouse Horticulture and Product Show. One of the private companies we visited was Cal Comp, a 40 billion a year electronics manufacturer. Cal Comp has two Plant Factory’s at their HQ in Taipei where they are testing the viability of selling turnkey Plant Factory’s around the world.
Dr. Fang showed us their R&D Facility at NTU and their advancements in plant production. Although their advancements are impressive, I was more impressed with their developments of equipment and processes to help facilitate research in plant production. Some of those R&D equipment’s developed by Dr. Fangs team I wish I had at Urban Farms R&D Facility in Panama. Due to the confidential nature that most of these R&D Facilities and private business are managed, I was not able to take pictures. I found Dr. Fangs contributions and advancements very enlightening.
After Taiwan, we flew to Japan to meet with Chiba University and Dr. Kozai; the God Father of the Plant Factory as he is known in Asia.
We started out the week with meetings at Chiba University. In attendance, besides the delegation from Panama and the Economic Advisor of the Panama Embassy in Japan, was Dr. Kozai, Dr. Yamaguchi, Dr. Takagaki, Dr. Kikuchi and the administration of Chiba University. Unbeknownst to most people, Chiba University is where the Plant Factory concept started and took shape and not in the US as most people are led to believe.
The delegation spent two days with Dr. Kozai and Chiba University showing us their most recent advancements, which are many, and discussed collaboration between Chiba University, the ICPCEA, the University of Panama and the Technological University of Panama. In January 2016, six (6) graduate students, (3 from each University in Panama) will attend a 71 day training course on Plant Factory at Chiba University and in February 2016 six (6) graduate students from Chiba University will go to Panama to intern at Urban Farms and have an opportunity to visit Panama.
The collaboration for technology and knowledge transfer between Chiba University and Panama is in full swing. The Foundation has been actively working for this collaboration between the universities to take shape for the benefit of advancing the Plant Factory in the Americas and have trained personnel that can work and manage the development of the Plant Factory.
We visited several private companies and most had implemented robotics and automation into their entire system. One company in particular, has their entire production process completely automated, that no person is required to enter the production area. From sowing, placing the trays into the rack system, to growing and harvesting the finished product, it’s all automated via robotics, automation and computing. The future of automated food production is already here!
At Toumara University, we saw food production of several plant products (lettuces, herbs, wheat, rice and other products) in space atmosphere (zero gravity), just like NASA is currently conducting in the US. I guess the Mars space race in food production is on!
We saw research in strawberries and blueberries in a Plant Factory growing conditions using Led lights. I could not take pictures, but the strawberries were growing very well, however, I was most impressed with the blueberry production. I have walked the fields of traditional blueberry field production and I mentally compared both. It seemed to me that the blueberry grown at this R&D Facility showed much more fruit per bush than in traditional blueberry production. One of the issues in traditional blueberry production is the environment for the fruit to set, obviously in a controlled environment you can control all those variables. I would need more data to come to a conclusion if the blueberry grown in a CEA environment was economically feasible, but I was informed by the agronomist that they believe that it will take 2 – 3 years before the blueberries produced in a CEA can be economically viable.
Check back in a week to read Post #3 on our visit to China, Belgium and Geneva. I saw advancements in automation, multilevel strawberry production using inter-lighting and other interesting news.
NOTE: The ICPCEA in Panama is open to everyone that would like to participate at any level. It will be an open source research and training center for anyone interested in learning Controlled Environment Agriculture and Plant Factory food production and operation. For more information, contact the FDCEA.