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Is the future of farming indoors?

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As you know, I live and work in the heart of one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, the Salinas Valley, which John Steinbeck called the Valley of the World for its fertile soil and temperate climate. We call ourselves the “Salad Bowl of the World” because we grow the largest concentration of salad greens consumed in the world, which means our farmers have become really good at maximizing crop production because they have embraced technology to increase those yields. After all, with a world population expected to grow above 9 billion people by 2050, the only way farmers around the world will be have to figure out how to grow more food using largely the same amount of farm land, so technology is going to be a major factor in helping achieve that growth.

It would be easier to do, of course, if people would be satisfied with high-yield, genetically modified foods that were engineered to survive under adverse conditions but the reality is that, at least in the western world, GMOs as they are called are being rejected in favor of organically grown products, which presents a challenge.  Organics require specific care and feeding and generally are not good candidates for high yielding crops.  In fact, the whole idea behind “organics” is the belief that these organic foods are not “industrial” products but instead provide a healthier and more nutritious product.

So, can we bridge this seemingly vast disconnect between the need to feed a growing population and providing healthier foods?  Well, there’s a well known technology company that thinks they have latched on to a solution and you’ll never guess who it is.

When I say Panasonic what comes to mind? Most people think about computers, audio-visual equipment and even shavers.  The Japanese technology company is a behemoth in consumer electronics but they are now venturing into a completely new world for them, agriculture, and they are doing it in a unique way.  Panasonic has developed the world’s first commercially viable vertical indoor farm, a sustainable and economical indoor farming technology that can produce a wide range of seasonal crops using soil-based cultivation in controlled environments and Hydroponic type factory which uses water only without soil.

Crops grown using this technology are not only organics and pesticide free, they also have a faster growth rate than traditional farming and are huge hedge against climate change. Let’s be honest, to paraphrase the late, great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we are all entitle to our opinions, but not our own facts and climate change is a real challenge to farmers around the world.  Even where I live in the Salinas Valley, we are suffering through the worse drought in California in a long time and our farmers have had to adjust. An indoor farm doesn’t have to contend with environmental variances and can be more productive year round that a typical plot of land.  In addition, indoor farms can be set up anywhere, even in the middle of major urban areas, so the cost of transporting the food is reduced considerably.

Panasonic’s technology uses the Hydroponic method mainly for leafy vegetables while soil type is used for root-type vegetables. It’s already being tested in Singapore, where a vertical farm about 300 yards in area is producing over three and a half tons of produce a year. A number of countries in the middle east are eagerly awaiting their own tests to determine if Panasonic’s indoor farming technology will help them feed their populations.

As an executive from Panasonic said, indoor farming technology may be a solution to the global shortage of arable land and water, climate change and increasing demand for quality food as well as stable food supply.

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