4 Trends in high-tech horticulture5 minutes
Often, a trip to the grocery store requires detective work to seek out the fruits and veggies least likely to turn bad right after you get home. A squeeze here, a sniff there, trying to recall which crops are in season when. But imagine if you could tell how fresh those strawberries are just by scanning their barcode. Or pick your tomatoes fresh off the vine, right from a living plant in the produce case.
Soon, this and more may be coming to a supermarket near you, as agribusiness innovators and food retailers tap new technology to reduce produce loss, feed our growing population and meet consumer demand for fresh, locally grown food.
Food waste in the US is of particular concern – costing the grocery retail space $18B per year, according to a study by ReFED. Though food retail has been slower than other industries to adopt disruptive technologies, proprietary research conducted by Panasonic shows that this sector is poised for change. In fact, some companies are already using technology to disrupt barriers like inefficiency in food retail, and to improve the customer experience.
Among the next-gen solutions being explored are blockchain, AI, robotics and autonomous – 4 of the 10 leading disruptive technologies expected to generate trillions in economic value in the decade ahead. Panasonic is deeply engaged in these technologies. We believe that connecting them into integrated solutions is essential to creating entirely new experiences.
Read on for 4 trends in high-tech horticulture that are changing the way our food is grown and bought.
1. The internet of plants
Farming may be as old as man, but disruptive tech is pushing it far into the future. Next-gen agriculturists are taking plants out of the soil and into water or air, combining hydroponics or aeroponics with sensors, rigorous data collection and algorithms to determine optimal conditions for superior growth. The goal? Plants that are taller and tastier. This internet of plants also enables growers to remotely monitor their crop health over a network, and to alter light and nutrients remotely as needed.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. One farm in Japan is overcoming the industry’s labor shortage with the help of Harvesting Robots. Leveraging AI and a camera equipped with image recognition, these farm bots are able to determine which tomatoes are ripe enough to be harvested by scanning their color, then use a primary robotic limb to pick the good ones off the vine.
3D food printing is another trend that’s gaining momentum, and early adopters are using this tech to engineer new breeds of healthier, sustainable foods. The food printers of tomorrow have the potential to allow users to customize their meals, specifying the ratio of calcium, protein, carbs and other nutrients for optimal nutrition.
2. Farms anywhere
45% of retailers are exploring indoor farming to meet the rising demand for fresh, sustainable, locally grown food. Inside a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Singapore, Panasonic grows approximately 80 tons of green leafy lettuce; mini red radish; mustard wasabi; a range of microgreens and other veggies a year, utilizing LED lights and climate controls to overcome the island’s shortage of arable land. In the U.S., urban farms are sprouting in abandoned factories, on high-rise rooftops, and within shipping containers, adopting the “farm-anywhere” approach to bring local produce to a growing population of city-dwellers.
3. Living produce
Innovative grocers are taking indoor farming to a hyperlocal level, growing ripe-for-picking herbs, greens, berries and more right in their produce aisle. Hussmann, a Panasonic company and world leader in refrigeration and display systems, supplies smart “living merchandiser cases” for in-store growing, giving shoppers the freshest produce possible – and a unique, entertaining retail experience they can’t get at the supermarket down the street.
Restaurants are also experimenting with on-site growing, installing walls of living herbs as well as “minifarm” grow boxes that enable them to manage costs, cultivate gourmet ingredients and ensure what’s on the menu is always in season.
4. Transparency you can track
Pressing on an apple is still a good way to guess its freshness, but digital product tags have the ability to better tell you that and more, from where it was grown and when it was harvested to how the farm treats its pickers – you can even read customer reviews and receive coupons right there in- store. Hussmann’s new startup business, Aperion, is providing Electronic Intelligent Shelf Labels to Retailers that use special NFC tags or QR codes to deliver this intel at the scan of a phone, driven by the desires of tech savvy Millennials and Gen Z to support responsible, environmentally friendly food sources.
Other benefits of this supply chain transparency are safer food and less waste: having the ability to quickly learn where a food was grown means distributors and grocers can be proactive if a crop is contaminated, pinpointing the source of the outbreak without dumping unaffected inventory.