I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me……. Walt Whitman

Travel is my new normal. The edge of my comfort zone has been pushed by the experiences I have had and the information I have heard.

The Nuffield Farming Japan group travelled from Indonesia this week to Japan and I have been reflecting on my UK centric view of the world. Indonesia was not a country I associated with positive news, but spending time there enabled me to see that they have an economy in growth (approximately 20%) and good trade links with the region. The country is pushing for 100% self sufficiency in key crops but having already achieved 95% supply for rice and with good production in other crops they are doing better than Japan. Indonesia’s population is young with 60% of people being under 30. In contrast, Japan has an ageing population and an economic growth of less than 2%. Both countries are seeing a reduction in the number of young people wanting to work in food and agriculture but with the average age of farmers in Japan already at 65, there is not much time to change the situation without changing the strict immigration laws applying to low skilled workers.

The application of technology in agriculture has been embraced by both countries to entice young people from city desk jobs and into food production.

In Japan, we visited Spread, a company who has the largest lettuce factory in the region producing 21,000 heads at 100g each day.

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The technology used for the vertical farming system employs the use of Internet of things (IOT), automated racking to move the crop, controlled atmosphere and water management systems. Factory production in a sealed production hall means that pest and diseases are kept out. There is no need for pesticides and water is applied at the required quantity, meaning there is no wastage. The unit runs with few people meaning that it is labour efficient, however, the electricity is 30% of the input cost and the waste product (roots and leaves) account for 20% of production volume.

Modern greenhouses in the UK and Holland for example, have historically made their own electicity by burning gas or wood to heat a water boiler and subsequently produce steam to drive a generator. The carbon dioxide by-product is fed into the greenhouse to supply the crop.  Waste plant material can also be fed to animals or used to fuel an anaerobic digestion plant.

Interestingly, Spread is not using an alternative energy option or waste optimisation but still has to supply carbon dioxide to the greenhouse.

Comparing this business model to Great Giant Pineapple in Indonesia who use the waste plant material from the pineapple and sugar cane plantations to feed their cattle then use the cattle manure for compost to fertilise the soil, the Spread model looks incomplete.

Each country has its challenges and it will be interesting to see what systems are used to ensure increased food production,  maintainence or improvement of efficiency and sustainability.

The Japan trip continues to Hokkaido and Tokyo……

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