Fujitsu is an electronics manufacturer that is one of many Japanese companies not able to compete with factories from South Korea and China, and has been forced into downsizing. Though one chip assembly line in Fukushima Prefecture was closed in 2009, the sterile room is now being used to grow specialized lettuce (don’t let the name Fukushima throw you off; the factory is about 60 miles from the nuclear reactor). There has been such a high demand for this type of produce, Fujitsu’s Akisai Food and Agriculture Cloud has expanded their operations in 2014.
The lettuce is not grown in soil, but has a specialized formulation of nutrients and fertilizer that is delivered right to the roots by a carefully-timed computerized drip system. The temperature, light, and air quality are strictly controlled. The lettuce is grown to have very low levels of potassium; about a fifth of what traditional lettuce contains. This is perfect for those with kidney failure who are on dialysis, as they cannot tolerate potassium very well. More low-potassium vegetables will be grown in this manner in the future.
The room is devoid of bacteria, allowing the sterile lettuce to last up to two months with proper refrigeration. This gives the company an advantage when transporting the lettuce, as it relieves much of the rigid time constraint with typical food delivery. Additionally, it is also free of pests and does not require the application of pesticides.
Fujitsu is not the only company that has made the best of a tough electronic market. Sharp has a facility that grows strawberries in Dubai, though they have integrated new air purifiers and grow lights into the production. Panasonic will debut their own brand of spinach later this year that can produce crops 1.5 times faster than traditional greenhouses. Toshiba is renovating a floppy disk factory that has been unused for 20 years in order to begin growing vegetables.
Not only does this new generation of greenhouses draw on the years of technological expertise of these companies, but it allows crops to be grown year round in urban environments, addressing the food demands of the ever-increasing global population. In fact, there are now over 380 locations in Japan using advanced agricultural techniques. Food prices in Japan are quite high, and larger corporations developing produce will help to drive costs down.
Fujitsu currently produces 3,500 heads of lettuce each day, with plans to grow. A bag of this lettuce is about $1 more than a head of traditional lettuce, which is a bit pricier. As they expand production, the price per head will go down considerably. Fujitsu expects to bring in $1.5 million from the lettuce in 2014; and admittedly modest start. However, that figure is expected to reach $4 million for fiscal year 2016 as they expand operations and refine their techniques.