Old Semiconductor Factories Turned Into High-Tech Farms

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What is Toshiba’s latest product? A laptop? A TV? How about lettuce?

The Japanese electronics manufacturer, that has a lineage dating back to the 1930s, has recently set up a vegetable farm inside a disused factory in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, that was once churning out floppy disks in the tune of millions. When floppy disks became obsolete, the factory was shutdown in the early 1990s, and remained deserted for decades until Toshiba decided to set up a vegetable farm growing lettuce, spinach and other leafy green vegetables. But this is no ordinary lettuce, for it’s grown not in soil but on a specialized formulation of nutrients and fertilizer in clean rooms where Toshiba once manufactured delicate electronics. The produce are so clean that it doesn’t even need washing before you eat them.


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Everything inside the clean rooms is tightly controlled, including air pressure, temperature, and lighting. Workers enter the room in special suits and after thoroughly washing their hands. The room is devoid of bacteria and dust, allowing the sterile crops to have extended shelf-life compared to field-grown crops. There are no bugs, so no pesticide is required either.

The first crop started shipping in November 2014 in small plastic containers in Toshiba’s own corporate cafeterias, as well as salad cafes in some Japanese department stores. Toshiba plans to eventually sell bags of salads and cut vegetables at convenience stores and supermarkets. The facility is expected to produce 3 million units of vegetables, including leaf lettuce and herbs, annually from fiscal 2015.


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Toshiba isn’t the only semiconductor industry that went into agriculture. In May last year, electronics giant Fujitsu Ltd. began shipping vegetables produced in the clean room of a shut-down semiconductor factory in Fukushima Prefecture. The lettuce grown by Fujitsu has very low levels of potassium - about a fifth of what traditional lettuce contains, which is perfect for those with kidney failure who are on dialysis, as they cannot tolerate potassium very well.

Hitachi also operates an IT agriculture-management system that can help forecast growth and determine the best harvest time for cereal crops such as wheat, which has an optimum harvest window in Japan of only one to two weeks.

Another electronics manufacturer Sharp is growing Japanese strawberries in a 108-square-meters facility in Dubai using controlled LED lighting, a proprietary air-purifying technology and humidity and temperature monitoring systems to optimize strawberry growth. Similarly, Panasonic is growing their own brand of spinach in a facility in Singapore while Sony’s abandoned semiconductor plant in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture is now the world's largest indoor farm illuminated by LED.


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Fujitsu indoor farm. Photo credit


The Panasonic farm in Singapore. Photo credit

Sources: QZ.com / Asahi.com / PCWorld

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