SUWON, KOREA - “IT powerhouse Korea has been developing new technology to produce safe food products by grafting its cutting-edge agricultural technology with state-of-the-art IT,” a top official of National Academy of Agricultural Science (NAAS) of Rural Development Administration said.
Noting that Korea's agricultural technology ranks fifth in the world, following the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada, Seung-yong Ra, president of NAAS, said, "In particular, Korea's technology to produce rice, cabbage, red pepper, and garlic is the best in the world. For instance, the Japanese regard Korean-produced rice as the best in the world."
In an interview with Korea IT Times, President Ra said, "NAAS established its 15th overseas agricultural technology development center, called Korean Project of International Agriculture (KOPIA), in Thailand early this year to spread Korea's advanced agricultural technology to developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa."
"For instance, Korean scientists in the King Sejong Station in Antarctic are eating fresh vegetables that they grew in a container-type plant factory, which we call Vertical fame, sent by RDA. Korea boasts of its top-class agricultural technology to grow plants in Antarctic, where the average temperature is minus 55 degrees Celsius," he explained.
Commenting that Korea's top-notch agricultural technology is generated from IT, he said, "NAAS is seeking a project combining Korea's advanced agricultural technology and its top-level IT technology to guarantee the safe supply of foods in a rapidly changing climate environment."
In the 1970s, Koreans could eat cabbages all year round through cultivation in vinyl houses. Korea was also able to maintain a stable supply of rice, various fresh vegetables and fruits through advanced cultivating methods.
"Although agriculture accounts for some KRW 44 trillion won of the GDP, Korea could successfully tide over the IMF financial crisis thanks to the stable supply of our staple food, namely rice and barley," he said.
Necessity of advanced agricultural technology
Asked about the necessity for the development of advanced agricultural technology, Ra said, "The agricultural industry is largely affected by external environmental factors. However, the gradually diminishing cultivated acreage and frequent climate change are driving many countries into the corner of food shortage. Accordingly, the alternative to tide over such difficulties is advanced technology.
"The paradigm of plant cultivating methods is changing from simple agricultural technology to convergence technology combining agricultural technology and advanced techniques in other industries. For example, the current facility agriculture such as vinyl house and glass greenhouse will transition to a Vertical fame in the near future," he noted.
"To produce safe agricultural products stably and help agriculture and farming villages effectively tide over such difficulties as deregulation and the aging society, we need to persistently develop advanced agricultural technology through technology innovation," he stressed.
Mid- and long-term development plans of IT, BT and RT
Pointing out that information technology (IT), bio technology (BT), robot technology (RT), and automation are essential factors for the welfare of farmers. President Ra said, "NAAS will make a strong push for facility modernization projects in keeping with the trend of the times by dividing current various technologies into three fields - on-the-spot bottleneck technology, agriculture base technology and future-oriented advanced agricultural technology."
He explained that facility modernization projects will be propelled in such a way as to monitor environmental conditions to grow plants and automatically control the cultivating environment.
On the success cases of creating high value added through convergence of agriculture and IT, he mentioned the soil information service system, called " KOREAN Soil information System(http://soil.rda.go.kr/eng)," with which farmers can attain various information on the physical and chemical characteristics of soil, agricultural climate and tailor-made fertilizer prescription, and a remote environment control system for facilities gardening, which enables farmers to control all conditions such as temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide with wire or wireless equipment.
"In addition, we developed the facilities plantation automatic irrigation system, which allows users to carry out water management by using their mobile phones or smart phones, and the smart LED control system for facilities gardening," he explained.
Leader of agriculture and IT convergence
While carrying out studies on the commercialization of plant factories, NAAS has been applying developed technologies to such horticultural facilities as vinyl house and glass greenhouse, not to mention plant factory.
"NAAS has also transferred its newly developed technologies, including those for charging, robots and remote control system, to facilities farmhouses," he said.
Noting that Korea's Vertical fame-related technology is renowned at world-class level, President Ra said, "In terms of automatiom and environmental management technology of plant factories, Korea is not lagging behind Japan, which started studies on the technology 20 years earlier than Korea. However, Korea is still in the initial study stage in several fields, such as high efficiency light source and breed development exclusively for plant factory."
Stressing that plant factory is future-oriented agricultural technology to tide over climate change and food crisis issues, Ra said, "NAAS will carry out basic studies in preparation for such obstacles and contribute to developing a future-oriented agricultural production system."
Agriculture is the root of life
Highlighting that human beings and technology are the core of organization, President Ra stressed, "Of the two, human beings are the first. NAAS is placing the priority on fostering manpower.
"Related to this, we are going all-out in our efforts to create an office environment where employees can share a single vision and work with pride and a sense of duty. Under such circumstances, researchers can focus their studies on the development of new agricultural technology, and managers can establish an environment for efficient study through selection and concentration," he said. "We should recognize the fact that study achievements are likely to be doubled when the study is carried out not by a single researcher, but by many researchers under close cooperation," said Ra.
In line with this, NAAS is making strenuous efforts to spread consensus among executives and employees through open-mindedness and communication on an equal footing.
"For instance, NAAS pushed ahead with visiting research centers and holding a series of consultation meetings with researchers to seek a consensus through frequent dialogues" said the president.
"In a nutshell, we are exerting our best efforts to create a comfortable and creative climate where researchers can engage in a positive competition and devote themselves to in-depth study," he said.
“In addition, NAAS will implement an education program to help researchers improve their foreign language proficiency, enjoy their hobby activities, and engage in various study clubs,” the president said.
Mentioning that competitive agriculture, clean environment, safe agricultural products, and living rural community with tradition and culture are desirable goals of NAAS, Ra said that about 370 researchers are working hard these days to achieve these goals day and night.
"We perform extensive studies in various fields such as investigation for change of agricultural environment & soil resources, research for plant nutrition & soil microbe, pests management & security of safe agricultural products, preservation of agricultural ecosystem & culture, research on agricultural bio-technology, and modernization & globalization of Korean food, among other things," Ra said.
He added that NAAS will do its best to post sufficient information in the areas of agricultural science technology such as the agricultural environment, agricultural biology, safety of agricultural products, agricultural engineering, biology resource, globalization of Korean food, and agricultural genetic resource on its homepage.