An agricultural shift is underway, led by Taiwan’s hi-tech manufacturing companies such as Delta Electronics, Foxconn and Kinpo Group, who are all entering into the agricultural industry. They are bringing their technological knowhow to improve light system and automated equipment used in factories. Though, it is not just the big firms that are incorporating new technology to improve traditional farming. Recently, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has promoted the use of technological methods to small farms with some success.
The 99feng Organic Farm is the only Taiwanese farm using LED lights to improve the quality and yield of its organic asparagus. Farm owner Chiu Sun-nan led Global Views reporters on a tour of the organic asparagus field in the countryside of Caotun Township, Nantou County (central Taiwan), where a variety of green asparagus, commonly found in spring and summer, and also purple asparagus, which is better in winter, were growing.
Chiu’s asparagus on average sells for US$10 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) and are sold to 5-star hotels which appreciate quality. Over the past decade, he has invested US$1.1 million, in addition to selling two townhouses (US$200,000) and taking out a US$333,000 loan. The biggest challenge for the farm is unpredictable weather. On cloudy and rainy days, production drops by half and the crop also becomes less tasty, so a steady profit margin is hard to maintain.
Chiu researched theses and agricultural documents to improve his odds and to increase his asparagus production, but to no avail. That was until three years ago, when Chiu met Hu Hong-lie. Hu, the deputy chief of Electronics and Optoelectronics Research Laboratories, ITRI, and Chiu began collaborating, reported Global Views.
In the beginning and given Hu’s engineering background, the project team did not understand the natural balance needed by asparagus in order to thrive. Since then, they have increased the farm’s production by 25 percent by taking advantage of LED lighting, experimenting to find which light sources would spur the best growth, and hopefully transfer this knowledge to the bio-medical industry as well.
Hu said the biggest difference between industrial experiments and agricultural experiments is that the experiment objects are alive in the latter. Plants keep on growing, whereas with industrial experiments – if today’s data is not right, you can redo it tomorrow. “But for agriculture, if your experiment is wrong this time, you have to wait another season or another year to redo it.”
Global Views reported that now Chiu’s asparagus farm is littered with tiny blue, red, purple and white sparkling lights, appearing more like a night club in the dark. Actually, the assorted colors are another experiment to find out which light source is best for asparagus growing, and which wave length can generate the nutrition for asparagus and reduce the purine elements of metabolic arthritis in asparagus.
Since the collaboration, Chiu has turned a small profit for the past three years. With supplementary LED lights, even on cloudy and rainy days, the farm can still produce 75 percent of its peak production. This makes Chiu very grateful to the industrial experts, since using LED lights has helped his crop become less vulnerable to bad weather.