Urban cities are running out of farming land. Along with climate change, this is where urban agriculture and “Agtech” comes in. They give rise to ventures from an underground farm in London to a Japanese office building with a rice paddy field.
“Up to 95 percent of produce in Hong Kong comes from Mainland China,” says Gordon Tam, founder and CEO of Farm66 “Hong Kong productions takes only 1.7 percent of the market. In order to increase local supply of food, we need technology to help people plant all their vegetables indoors.”
Farm66, an urban farming company that uses aquaponics systems to grow a variety of lettuces, organic fruits, vegetables and mushrooms, without any chemical fertilisers, uses a spectrum of LED lighting applied through “wavelength technology” to induce photosynthesis. The multilayer structure of LED-lighting and aquaponics systems achieve a symbiotic life cycle between fish and plant life, patented as “Factory-type Urban Farming System”.
“People support local food. There is huge market potential as consumers are demanding for healthy, fresh, and organic options.” Tam’s vision for Farm66 is helping urban farmers to grow fresh, safe and healthy vegetables, and supports organic food production by developing farm to fork solutions. His concept includes using the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation to analyse crop sustainability, predict growth conditions with data, for harvesting with better productivity and richness of nutrients.
“For mass production, we need to use mobile technologies to help us work around the clock and reduce the risk to humans. Using robots for seeding and transferring plants is integral in our operations, it saves a lot of time, manpower, and floor space. In the meantime, our focus is really on consultancy, research and development, and there is where we will focus on retaining local talents.”
Farm66 farming system shifts to precise cultivation with the use of robotics, IoT combined with AI for higher crop yield while using less resources. “We can compare all the data to find the best performance, and help farmers improve their productivity,” says Tam. “For example, traditional farming produces lettuces maybe three harvests per year, being indoors we don’t have to worry about the weather seasons, so we can produce lettuces all year round. The growth time can further cut down to 25 to 35 days, 3 times faster than traditional farming.”
Today, the company produces about 7 tons of leafy greens annually and delivers to several restaurants, supermarkets and retail channels, from CitySuper, Sogo to Pacific Coffee and Starbucks.
The other side of Tam’s business is to offer consultancy in vertical farming in which they provide their know-how services as well as the total solution they’ve built in making indoor agriculture possible. “Clients with fervent interest in this field hail from places like Dubai and other places in China with extreme weathers that make farming difficult and are looking for solutions such as indoor farming.” says Tam.
“China itself is supportive of urban farming. The local government invited us to consult on a 90,000 square feet indoor farming space. There is a huge market opportunity in China, and growing Chinese medicinal herbs can be lucrative in this space in the near future.”
The UAE currently imports 80 percent of its food who has estimated 100 million USD in vertical farming, in particular Emirates is building the world’s largest vertical farm for the airline carrier. Other side of the world, China’s per capita arable land area is far less than the world average (account for 8 percent of the world’s total cultivated land). Yet, as coronavirus and climate change heighten the desire for food security, this has motivated China to continuously develop new agricultural technologies to sustain food production.
Looking into Hong Kong, there are many ways to infuse this new farming model into our city life. Urban farms can be part of the construction and real estate development plan that are present in high-end property estates. “It serves greenery, food supply, entertainment and educational purpose, provides an opportunity for local property developers to get in on the action and slowly but surely paves the way to indoor farming in every citizen’s home,” says Tam.
Having an urban farm within the confines of a skyscraper city can create great influences on social and environment that allows the improvement of Hong Kong’s research scientific community, an existing food production scene and generate local employment to have the city not only known for it being a finance center, but also the next urban agricultural city.
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