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ERSU ABLAK >Will agriculture save high tech companies?

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The tables have turned and agriculture, once seen as a low-pay, high-hassle industry compared to technology production, has become the possible savior of many high tech firms, especially in Japan.

There are two very strong trends that make agriculture a high profit industry that needs niche talents after centuries. The first is manmade and natural catastrophes. Be it global warming or not, the weather all around the globe has become unpredictable. Each year, more and bigger hurricanes hit the U.S and Japan. There are draughts and heavy rains at the most unexpected times. All of these make traditional agriculture a risky business. Even in Turkey the prices of many fruits and vegetables has increased tremendously after many fields froze and spoiled because of the large amount of rain in the country during spring. A food supply risk is a risk that many countries cannot afford to take. Therefore, governments are willing to pay higher prices. As higher prices are becoming the norm in agriculture, the possibility of high returns attracts attention from the industries that are not as profitable as they used to be. This is especially true for high tech companies in Japan. They are forced to decrease prices because of fierce competition from South Korea and China. Many factories were about to be locked down. That is until the Japanese government began pushing for high firms to grow lettuce.

The second trend is the rise in the demand for food in general, but especially in organic and technologically altered food. It may come as a surprise, but as the general demand for food rises, some niche demand groups are getting too big to negate. The first is the organic trend, as people really are looking into where and how their vegetables are being produced and only choose products that are organically certified. Another group chooses more technologically altered fruits and vegetables, such as square watermelons, which save you space, or low potassium lettuce that is edible even if you have kidney failure.

As of last month, electronics maker Fujitsu Ltd. began selling low-potassium lettuce, which is grown in a special clean room at its semiconductor plant in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. Toshiba Corporation said it would begin growing vegetables inside a floppy disk factory near Tokyo that hasn’t been used for two decades. Later this year, Panasonic Corporation will start selling computer-program controlled greenhouses to grow spinach and other vegetables. And Sharp Corporation, last year, began laboratory tests to grow strawberries in an indoor site in Dubai using its lighting and air-purifying technologies.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the government has expanded subsidies nationwide for advanced agriculture and the number of plants like Fujitsu using high-tech methods has quadrupled over the past three years to more than 380, according to government figures.

Does this trend make any sense? According to Toshiba it does.

Toshiba announced that it will add a new dimension to its healthcare business by starting the production of pesticide-free, sustainable vegetables in a closed-type plant factory that operates under almost aseptic conditions. The company has begun construction of the plant factory at a facility in Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture, and will start shipping lettuce, baby leaf greens, spinach, mizuna and other vegetables in the second quarter of the 2014 fiscal year. Annual sales are estimated to be 300 million yen (approximately $30,000).

A statement by Toshiba recently said: “Building on its global presence in CT and other diagnostic imaging systems, Toshiba is promoting a healthcare business that combines technologies and know-how from across the Toshiba Group to support the development of a society where people can lead healthier and happier lives. Promoting good health and a better living environment is integral to these efforts, and Toshiba is focusing its attention on improving food, water and air quality.”

It is obvious that the future of agriculture is changing in developed countries. Technology firms will not leave it to chance for us to find food and in the process they will make billions of dollars. Now the question we all need to ask as Turkish citizens is this: What are we doing to catch this trend? Is our minister of agriculture praying to produce better food as he did to make it rain to end the draught or does he actually have a plan?

July/10/2014

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