The future of high-tech industries, or any industry for that matter is uncertain. Firms will go to certain lengths, whether it is to innovate into diverse markets or differentiate their existing products and services, to survive in the market. From manufacturing electronic computing devices, high-tech companies such as Toshiba, Fujitsu and Sony, are few of several firms that are looking to establish a market in the Agriculture industry. Combining the use of their obsolete tech factories, technical facilities and expertise, they are able to support the manufacture of crops through indoor farming.
Indoor farming consist of crops being grown hydroponically–in a controlled environment, supplying nutrients and fertilizers through recycled water and substituting natural sunlight to artificial fluorescent/LED lighting. Similarly, Vertical Farming uses the concept of ‘indoor farming’ but in urban centers, similar to a multistory/skyscraper greenhouse.
As distinctive as the two industries of high technology and agriculture are, agriculture has always been the lower pay, high labour intensive work in comparison to technology production. But would indoor farming change this equation? No doubt that the high-tech industry is a thriving and heavily competitive industry, in which latest computing gadgets; technological functions, software and machinery are continuously evolving to keep up with the market. But as competition gets fierce can indoor agriculture become the ultimate savior for declining high-tech firms in the future? And what impacts would indoor farming have on wider society?
One of the leading Japanese innovation and tech company Toshiba, has began to harness its position into the Agriculture industry. Practicing indoor farming through using their abandoned factories in Tokyo, which had previously manufactured floppy disks in the 1980’s, the company have begun producing large batches of organic lettuces, hoping to grow other vegetables in the future. According to the Quartz Article the latest agenda on Toshibas business plan is to expand in the healthcare business, by supplying medical equipment as well as providing indoor farming services to produce high quality and quantity lettuce and salads. Providing clean room farming facilities, lighting, water disinfection, power generation equipment, and tablets– which workers combine to prevent bacteria in the production process; Toshiba is able to operate indoor–farming effectively, placing the consumable Lettuce into sealed plastic containers, to ensure a longer shelf life than other lettuces.
It is believed that tech firms entering the agriculture market in this way will completely revolutionize the way the farming industry operates and can bring many positive impacts on both society and on high tech and agricultural industries.
No doubt that the increase in population is going to put a huge demand on the production of food. Having limited agricultural land to grow crops due to urbanization will make it much more effective to grow high quality and quantity crops indoors using sophisticated technology.
Further, Climate change has brought unpredictable and uncontrollable weather conditions, making farming very challenging. From Hurricanes in the USA and Japan, to flooding in the UK are just some examples of how extreme weather conditions can disrupt the growth of crops. Therefore, indoor/vertical farming would not only eliminate this problem, but also prevent crops from getting damaged by bugs, pesticides and herbicides, which is another persistent problem of outdoor farming. Besides, expanding the practice of ‘indoor/vertical farming’ would generate jobs for many all around the world.
Quartz Article addresses the benefits of vertical farming stating: “Why plant lettuce in a clean room? The obvious answer: Because it’s clean. Everything is tightly controlled, including air pressure, temperature, lighting, bacteria, and dust. The result is a crop that doesn’t need pesticides, doesn’t have bugs, and doesn’t need washing”
This almost sounds like a dream–come–true for traditional organic farmers that would have to constantly monitor their crops under fairly unpredictable weather conditions, to ensure the quality of their crops is intact for trading and consumable purposes.
However, many would debate the idea of this intensive ‘clean room farming’ questioning the nutritional aspect of crops. Similarly to the debate with Genetic Modified Goods, vertical/indoor farming would also be a hot topic on whether the lack of natural sunlight energy and recycled gray water would affect consumers’ long-term health. Besides indoor farming can only grow limited types of crops. Foods such as corn, wheat, barley is best suited for outdoor agriculture.
Nonetheless, the greater concern is the initial high investment costs of these ‘indoor farming systems’ especially in comparison to natural farmlands. But the real question should be whether high-tech companies have the economic feasibility and can guarantee return on their investments, and whether they can use indoor farming to benefit society on a wider scale.
Toshiba’s future goals is to sell indoor farming systems as well as operate them in Middle Eastern countries, where outdoor farming is exceptionally challenging.This would be a great opportunity to not only generate millions of dollars of profit, but also benefit people worldwide suffering with shortage of food, lack of adequate outdoor farming facilities, enabling local grocery stores to stock up and make profit from high quality and quantity crops.
As various high-tech firms are heading in a similar direction, with Fujitsu manufacturing lettuce in semiconductor plans in Japan, Sharp producing strawberries in Dubai and Panasonic producing vegetables in Singapore– the future of indoor farming could progress into a successful one. Although the few uncertainties of costs and the intensive process of indoor farming may raise questions, the basic idea and benefits it would bring would not only benefit high–tech industries but also facilitate production of food for the growing population.