SW Industry Develops the Core Technology of Vertical Farming
SW Industry Develops the Core Technology of Vertical Farming
  • koreaittimes
  • 승인 2012.10.27 01:27
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Vertical Farming, Photo: National Academy of Agricultural Science

SEOUL, KOREA – Case 1, Since the nuclear accident in Japan in March 2011, South Koreans have been anxious about the spread of radiation to their country, shunning Japanese agricultural and fishery products, and their distrust towards even Japanese manufactured goods is also growing. Against this backdrop, in May 2012, the Korean government extended the import suspension list of the Japanese agricultural and fishery products so as to quell public anxiety and prevent possible accidents.

The government halted the import of the following agricultural and fishery products including leafy vegetables, leaves, turnips, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, plums, tea, yuzu, chestnuts, rice, kiwi, wasabi Aralia elata, Sancho, Acanthopanax koreanum extract, and Gobi from Japanese locations including Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gunma, Iwate, and Miyagi.

Case 2. The hydrofluoric acid leak accident in the Gumi Industrial Complex on September 27, 2009 turned 312ha of area into a dead land. The Korean government projected that all crops exposed to hydrofluoric acid should be completely discarded. The Food and Drug Administration tested 205 agricultural samples collected from 312ha of the accident zone and detected a maximum 472.1ppm hydrofluoric acid from 202 samples.

As people become more conscious about food on their dining room table, the organic food market is expanding. In the wake of the Japanese nuclear accident and Gumi hydrofluoric acid leak accident, what people are most concerned about is their food. Unlike manufactured goods, food is directly related to our survival.

Vertical Farming, Photo: National Academy of Agricultural Science

In this sense, food safety is considered the most important issue. When a hazardous substance is reportedly detected in a certain food product in Korea, it is instantly driven out of the market. As such, people's resistance to unhealthy food is beyond imagination. Likewise, people's desire to have safe food that is free from the threat of natural disasters or environmental pollution is also extremely strong.

Vertical Farm acts as a source of safe food in any environment.

Scientists are actively working on producing and supplying safe and healthy food. As part of their efforts, Vertical Farm, or Plant Factory is drawing attention as a new agricultural technology.

Plant Factory, another name for vertical farming, is a compound word where "plant" indicates natural produce and "factory" constitutes modern industry. It sounds foreign to us, but it has been well commercialized in the Netherlands and Japan, and is gradually taking root in Korea as well.

Vertical Farm refers to systemic farming where agricultural goods are produced in the artificially managed growing environment (light, air, heat, and nutrients) of a controlled facility.

It is similar to manufacturing goods in that a factory-like farm produces goods in an optimal environment through exact measurements and management. Another very attractive feature is the ability to control the quality of goods. Vertical Farming comes across as precision agriculture as it requires less fertilizers and pesticides as a result of scientifically controlled environment, thereby producing safer products.

Hailed as the 6th industry, Vertical Farming has emerged as a new high-value business.

While the existing greenhouse system including glass greenhouse only controls unpredictable sunlight, Vertical Farm harnesses industrial technologies such as IT and biotechnology while controlling natural sources. It is credited for elevating farming from the primary industry to the 6th industry (1st + 2nd + 3rd industries).

Since Professor Dickson Donald Despommie of the Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences Department at Columbia University established the concept of Vertical Farming, it has emerged as an alternative solution to food and farmland shortages.

Jeong-kun Lee, President of Saltware, and Chairman of Korea Software Enterprise Association(KOSEA)

In 2009, he presented a blueprint saying that "a 30-story building can provide food for 50,000 people" when he attended an academic event in South Korea.

South Korea, taking advantage of it strengths in IT, BT, ET technologies, is stepping up its efforts to develop this area.

At a time where food self-sufficiency is on the decline every year in Korea, it is no surprise to see high expectations for Vertical Farming. For that reason, the Korean government considers it an alternative solution to addressing food shortages in the future, and is subsequently providing more investments in the area.

In 2009, the Rural Development Administration, in collaboration with Marine Research Institute developed and dispatched the Vertical Farm to the King Sejong Antarctic Station. It was Korea's first government sponsored vertical farm. In 2011, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Seodun-dong, Kwonsun-gu, Suwon-city, Gyeonggi-do) under the Rural Development set up a vertical farm in a total floor area of 396 ㎡ designed for research.

Vertical Farming's expected effects are ◆ fresh produce ◆ agribusiness growth ◆ convenience ◆ education ◆ enhanced quality of life ◆ resource circulation◆ and year-round production.

The software industry is turning to this area, taking action to secure competitiveness with the core technology.

Vertical Farming, hailed as an alternative high value-added business in the future, entails the development of associated technologies such as automatic monitoring for operation, environmental control automation, and environmental control with a remote monitoring system. Accordingly, local IT companies are keen to develop core technology for the farming.

Why are IT firms are turning to this business, which requires long-term planning and enormous investment Jeong-kun Lee, Chairman of Korea Software Enterprise Association(KOSEA) and President of Saltware(www.saltware.co.kr), a leading company in this area asserted that, "Food is a matter of life and death".

He also added that we cannot expect economic development without the software industry, which is a future growth engine. Hence, developing the core technology for vertical farming while combining these two essential areas will emerge as a huge high-value-added industry in the future.

At the end of October, President Lee visited Qatar with the Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo to transfer the vertical farming technology. "Other countries are also interested in the plant factory and operating software for the system. As we have a lot of accumulated expertise in various fields, such as plant growth process DB, and growing condition control system, we are receiving many offers from other countries," he explained.

As the government and private companies are working together to develop the burgeoning vertical farming system and to realize the blueprint, it is expected to see the country secure the core technology for the system in the future

Since its foundation in 2003, Saltware has concreted its position in infrastructure, middleware consulting and service sector. Recently Saltware attracted attention, taking on a new challenge, Vertical Farming. Korea IT Times interviewed Jeong-kun Lee, Chairman of Korea Software Enterprise Association(KOSEA) and President of Saltware, a leading Vertical Farming software company. While President Lee stressed the importance of plants, he pointed out that South Korea can be more prosperous through development of related software. This is the full interview transcript.

Q. Saltware is recognized as a very promising company in the industry. Tell me about your recent business trip to Qatar.

A. Qatar is getting more enthusiastic about Vertical Farming. The Gyeonggi Agricultural Research was requested for support from the country and I went to the country to transfer related know-how. Qatar, as a desert country, is keen to acquire food resources. Apart from Qatar, a lot of countries want to learn Vertical Farming and software know-how from Korea.

Q. How is the Korean Government's support in this area

A. Seoul City has been committed to providing annually one billion won for 4 years to my company to support development of Vertical Farming software. As shown in the case, the Korean government is putting more resources in this area. Vertical Farming should be considered a new business combining noble cutting-edge technologies rather than a simple agricultural technology. I believe this is good news for the whole software industry.

Q. Why do you think Saltware Vertical Farming System draws attention from other countries

A. Our technology is based on the fact that plants grow differently depending on a certain wavelength of light. Plants under a blue light grow horizontally and the ones under a red light grow vertically. Thus, if we use an appropriate light for each plant, we may accelerate growth rate up to three times.

Such a scientific approach will change the paradigm of the agricultural industry. Improving harvests in the context of Vertical Farm means not only upgrading seeds and providing good fertilizer but creating an optimal growing environment through scientific statistics, monitoring, management based on IT, which is making it possible to constantly supply agricultural products at regular prices just like industrial goods.

I believe, in the future, Vertical Farming will become a major IT convergence business when it is combined with LED lighting system, environmental control system and robotic automation. I am proud to play a part in this burgeoning high-value-added industry as a software developer.

Q. Recently you have been elected as the acting chairman of the Korea Software Enterprise Association. As Representative of the Association, what do you want to point out

A. As the Software Industry Promotion Act was amended last May, tech people hold on high expectations that the Government would make more investment in the industry. In the run up to the December election, each presidential hopeful is also making commitments to the multilateral support to software development. I will continue to support policy makers to turn their pledges into concrete proposals and initiatives.

Q. Your company name is eye-catching. How do you come up with this name

A. I wanted to create a business and software as essential as salt. There is a saying that one's name determines one's destiny. Maybe that is why we had a good luck to develop a much-needed software.

Saltware specializes in consulting and services for infrastructure and middleware. We are developing middleware that enables seamless communications between applications and operating systems in the complex and heterogeneous environment.

To make good Kimchi, you need not only good cabbages but also good salt and seasoning. As such we would like to develop salt-like software connecting applications and operating systems.

Q. Tell me more about your software.

A. We developed an enterprise portal solution, enView, and a single sign-on solution, enPass. To enhance the value of existing products, we added vertical SNS features. We also developed enTalk which provides push notification for smart devices. As such we are responding to social network and mobile environment. Furthermore, we are working on Metadata search solutions for structured / unstructured data to overcome limitations of searching existing huge data during research and development. We also developed an open source solution, enCub, that allows commercial databases to migrate to an open source database, helping many public agencies and financial institutions to switch more easily to the open source environment.

Q. Saltware has been awarded ISO9001 and ISO14001 certificates. What is your vision

A. In addition to Vertical Farming, I am interested in system integration and open source consulting for the public sector. ISO9001 and ISO14001 certificates recognize our systemic quality control and technical support system as a software developer. For the future, I will focus on system integration and open source consulting for the public sector along with Vertical Farming. The year 2015 will be critical for Saltware to take off. 

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