Is world’s largest indoor farm the way of the future?
The old SONY factory located in eastern Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture is up and running again. This time around, however, it’s been resurrected as something else entirely: an indoor farm that, at 25,000 square feet, is the largest of its kind.
As is the case with other indoor farms, crops are grown in conditions that hardly resemble conventional agriculture. Here, farm workers, dressed in white lab coats and face masks, take great care in maintaining a sterile environment to ensure that the vast majority of produce are harvested in a state of optimal freshness. The humid climate inside is managed with precision and rather than using soil, the plants are raised hydroponically, a method where nutrients and fertilizer is drip-fed and absorbed through recycled water in a measured, controlled manner.
But the sprawling Mirai lettuce farm has a significant edge over the rest. In interviews, Shigeharu Shimamura, a botanist who serves as the company’s president, touts that, with just 1 percent of the water that’s used for irrigation, his lettuce grows more than twice as fast as lettuce grown outdoors. This translates to an average of 10,000 heads shipped out each day.
The trick, he says, is in the lighting. Designed by General Electric, the LED fixtures sitting atop each stacked row of lettuce are programmed to automatically adjust their illumination in a cycle that maximizes photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night. Compared to outdoor farms, it’s estimated that artificially accelerating the maturation process can boost crop yields by as much as 50 percent. And while indoor farms typically use florescent lighting, LEDs are much more efficient, consuming 40 percent less energy.