Japan's IT greenhouse built to grow produce in monsoon conditions
Panasonic is involved in a project on the island of Ishigaki, southwest of Okinawa, to seek ways to grow vegetables in subtropical monsoon conditions. Part of the Japanese government's Asian Monsoon Plant Factory System (PFS) Consortium, the goal is to create a stable local supply of produce despite the climate.
Regions that are subject to monsoon seasons can see a wide range of effects, from a slightly higher rate of precipitation to torrential rainfalls, but places like Ishigaki not only see more rain, but also have to contend with heat and humidity, producing conditions that makes it a very poor place to try raising vegetables.
With the prospect of climate change, the Asian Monsoon PFS was established in 2016 to develop technology to counter the hot, soggy climate in a way that is effective at creating a stable local supply of vegetables economically. For proof of concept, Ishigaki Island was chosen because of its frequent monsoon squalls and frequent typhoons.
For the test, tomatoes were chosen as the crop because places like Ishigaki Island are very hostile to them due to the local temperature, lighting, and humidity, which makes the plants susceptible to diseases.
To house the tomatoes, the consortium built a plant factory-type intelligent greenhouse, called the IT Greenhouse, which is different from the standard Dutch-style plant house that is a tall structure where the plants grow for 10 months. Instead, the IT Greenhouse isn't as high and costs three to four times less than the Dutch style. In addition, it's built to withstand gusts of wind of up to 112 mph (180 km/h).
The Greenhouse is equipped with devices like curtains that absorb infrared light to regulate heat, and sensors to control moisture content. Other sensors gauge photosynthesis in a contactless manner. In addition, there are cooling system, misters, and wind sensors. The upshot is that the tomatoes grow in only about three months at a cost comparable to growing them on the Japanese mainland
Once the hardware is up and running, the next step will be to work on ways to manage and improve the facility by means of cloud systems that can be controlled from thousands of miles away, including Smart Saien's Cloud, which is an integrated environment control system that is the first to be used in the subtropics, and Panasonic's Cultivation Navi system, where farmers can access data remotely using an app.
According to Panasonic, the advantages of such a factory farming system is that it not only reduces the need for transport, it also avoids the strict quarantine regulations that often hinder the movement of produce. Also, the remote control feature allows many locations to be monitored at once, introducing economies of scale.