Japan: Meeting high lettuce demand through automated vertical farm production

“In Japan, the average age of farmers is over 67 years old. As the birth rate is declining, we believe that Japan's agricultural problems cannot be solved without automation in the future. We, therefore, realized a state-of-the-art vertical farm using Japanese industrial technology. In the future, we intend to adopt the cultivation technology of vertical farms into general agriculture,” says Toru Numagami, President and director of A-Plus, a vertical farm in Japan.

Toru Numagami

After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the founder of A-Plus started reading about combining agriculture and technology created by Japanese companies. The company had high hopes for tech and the future of agriculture, removing multiple barriers. While making use of national subsidies to develop new agtech innovations, A-Plus will be evolving constantly.

The A-Plus factory 

Meeting lettuce demand
A-Plus has a total site area of 9,092m2, whereas the cultivation space comprises 5212m2. The products are sold to food processing companies. Some companies offer food for convenience stores. Toru explains that in Japan, the lettuce demand is approximately 600,000 tons per year, so vegetables are in high demand. "Fortunately for us, we can grow lettuce in a very short period of time and efficiently."

In the future, A-Plus aims to provide a larger product basket including various vegetables and fruits like strawberries. Having a stable supply is beneficial to its customers which are hotels, businesses and convenience stores and supermarkets, where large quantities of vegetables are consumed. The lettuce produced at A-Plus is shipped mainly to companies that process sandwiches, Bento (Japanese for lunch), salads, etc. The factory produces ready-to-eat salads as well, which are sold at various Japanese supermarkets.

The ready-to-eat salads

Maintaining a clean environment
Inside the plant factory, they aim to minimize insects and adulteration, as well as the number of bacteria, through automation and thorough sanitation control. In particular, the reduction of chores will extend the expiration date of lettuce-based sandwiches, hamburgers and other processed foods. Besides that, it will help reduce food loss, which is a global issue.

As strict hygiene measures are observed and the number of bacteria is very low, processing can be done within the factory. Since fewer people are present, these processes are done by robots and other equipment.

Inside the factory 

Avoiding chores is a very important food requirement in the country. "Our principle is to reduce the number of bacteria that are attached to lettuce without using dirt or contaminated water and to reduce the number of bacteria by maintaining high-quality sanitation conditions from the harvest and processing stages without sterilization. In Japan, there are few cases where farmers have started vertical farms,"  explains Toru. Whereas, most of the traditional farmers in Japan grow crops for the market.

Scalable farming solution
The farm can be scaled up, as long as it is using automation, which means moving things around with robots. The maintenance of each device will be necessary, and industrial capabilities will be required. "Therefore, since manual and automation require completely different capabilities and management techniques, we believe that the steps from manual to automation should not be taken," Toru noted. 

For more information:
Toru Numagami, President and director
A-Plus Co.,Ltd



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