February 13, 2015,11:30 +0900(JST) Possibility of Agriculture
Although this happened prior to the date of my previous blog entry, at the end of January I visited Chiba University to observe the field trial of high sugar content tomato cultivation that we are promoting jointly with the university.
"What? Tomato cultivation by Sumitomo Electric?" Although you may be surprised about this, we have actually had a long-time connection with agriculture. Around 1970, we began research on industrialization of agriculture, followed by the development of Sandponics, a cultivation system that uses a combination of a sand cultivation technique, with automatic irrigation and fertilization functions. Although around 1996 there were about 150 farmers across Japan using Sandponics, we stopped development of the system for various reasons, while the number of farmers using the system is also decreasing partly due to a lack of successors.
When preparing our on-going mid-term management plan VISION 2017, however, we discussed whether some of our technologies could contribute to water and food production, which will be essential in the future. As a result, we have decided to focus on Sandponics once again and take on challenges in the field of agriculture.
In July last year, we concluded a joint research contract with Chiba University, and since November we have been continuing a field trial of tomato cultivation using Sandponics on the university's research farm. High-quality, sweet tomatoes are beginning to be produced on the farm. (I sampled one such tomato, and it was certainly sweet and delicious.) The old Sandponics required a considerable amount of culture media (sand), making the system heavy, which was a disadvantage of the system. However, under the current version, it is possible to cultivate items with a little media.
The instructors for this field trial commented that Sandponics might find use even in places without developed infrastructure in foreign countries.
Previously, in the domain of agriculture, each farmer used to have his or her own accumulation of a wide variety of know-how, such as related to climate and soil conditions, as well as knacks for watering and fertilizing. In our project, however, we are collecting an enormous amount of such data every moment. Using this big data, we would like to establish technology as soon as possible that can realize both high quality and plentiful crops.
In addition, if we can combine Sandponics with our concentrator photovoltaic system, redox flow battery and system engineering, I'm sure that it will become possible to operate Sandponics with natural energy, to control complex conditions, and achieve stable agricultural production even in places with insufficient infrastructure. I personally expect that good crops will become available even in wilderness areas.