Sustainability and food independence has become a topic of discussion in the region, as we faced disruptions and potential food issues during the pandemic. However, the pandemic merely highlighted issues that already existed in the industry well before 2019.

Lowering yields and relatively stagnant innovation in the industry has stunted growth in the agricultural sector for a while. With little to no viable land availability, countries like Singapore also lack a way to create a sustainable agricultural landscape. But, is there a way to develop something that works for the region, such as urban farming.

Signify believes that is a solution. They recently launched a virtual Center of Excellence for smarter, more sustainable urban vegetable farming in Asia. The center is Signify’s first virtual horticultural knowledge-based research center. It aims to enable urban growers to access knowledge residing with their teams and specialists, expertise in its proven growth recipes and its portfolio of products and services. Research insights gathered by Signify’s physical research hubs, the GrowWise Center in Eindhoven and BrightBox in Venlo, since 2015 will also be made available over this virtual center.

The centre will cover all critical knowledge required to successfully build a vertical farm or modern greenhouse including plant science, lighting application, Internet of Things (IoT) control and engineering design.

To learn more, we spoke to Signify’s Fabian Choh, Public and Government Affairs Leader, and Horticulture Lead, Mengdi Zhang.

We look at urban farming in Singapore and what the future looks like

The Centre of Excellence is also aligned to Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal to build up its agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to produce 30% of nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030. The plan is to work with the local government to boost the ability of local vegetable growers to achieve high-quality crops and higher yields by tapping into the more than 150 growth recipes the company has developed and the center’s research bank to implement technology such as integrated climate control systems that create the ideal growing conditions for crops.

Find out what both Fabian and Mengdi had to share with us.

Congrats on the launch of the new centre. Could you explain what you hope to achieve with your centre?

 Signify officially announced the establishment of the Center of Excellence (CoE) – its first horticulture knowledge center in Asia – on 16 November 2021. 

As the world leader in lighting, Signify has more than 80 years of experience in horticulture lighting technology. 

Through the center, Signify is committed to bringing our spectrum of science-based lighting solutions to enable growers in Singapore and beyond to successfully utilize these technologies to grow plants faster, better, and in a more sustainable way. Apart from sharing international expertise, Signify also aims to grow its presence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.

Signify horticulture and urban farming
What the future of horticulture might look like

With regards to the Singapore 30 by 30, what are your next steps on that journey?

As a region with one of the most rapidly growing urban populations, Asia needs to grow food more sustainably and in a smarter way to feed its people. For Singapore, food security is a pressing issue as the majority of its food is imported. Hence, growing food locally in Singapore is especially important to build a more resilient food future.

At Signify, we seek to support Singapore’s ’30 by 30’ goal by doing our part to build up its agri-food industry’s capability and capacity. For our next steps, we hope to help growers here navigate the challenges in indoor farming to achieve high-quality crops and higher yields. 

Knowledge residing with Signify’s teams and specialists, our expertise in our proven growth recipes and our portfolio of products and services can also be tapped upon through close collaboration with local growers and professionals in the field. With the more than 150 growth recipes the company has developed, research insights gathered by Signify’s research hubs, the GrowWise Centrer in Eindhoven and Brightbox in Venlo, may also be made available through collaboration efforts.

Many growers understand the importance of lighting to urban farming success. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach as LED grow lights affect various crops and growing phases of plants. Our light recipes capture the elements of lighting that steer plant growth. 

With the right lighting and light recipes, growers could enjoy such benefits as:

  • Energy savings
  • Higher yield
  • Shortening of growth cycle
  • Improved plant uniformity 
  • Enhanced space utilization 
  • Improved plant quality 
  • Higher germination rate
  • Higher rooting survival rate 
  • Enhancement and greater control of the elongation process

Which markets in Southeast Asia have the best potential for urban indoor farming?

The momentum for urban indoor farming is increasing quickly in South East Asia amid a growing awareness, interest and demand for sustainably grown food. Singapore, for example, has announced its own ’30 by 30’ plan, to reduce its reliance on food imports, turning to technology and innovative ways to increase food production by farmers locally. The scarcity of land available in Singapore for traditional, open farming is a strong motivating force to accelerate urban farming efforts to grow food in a land-productive way. A good example is Kalera (formerly &ever), one of Signify’s customers, that will launch its first indoor mega-farm and global research and development center in Singapore in 2022, producing up to 500 tonnes of leafy greens annually.

There is also a strong spirit of innovation and interest in urban farming in the rest of South East Asia. Despite land for open farming not being a critical limitation for these countries, Government support is strong as well. For example, the Thailand Board of Investment offers activity-based tax incentives for smart farming. In Malaysia, grant funds have been disbursed by organisations such as the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center (MaGIC) to vertical farms. Keep an eye on South East Asia, as the momentum and potential growth for urban indoor farming is very encouraging and exciting in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

How are you planning to work with urban growers around the region?

The Signify CoE also aims to work with urban growers around the region to help them successfully build their farms through practices and technology that bring growers higher yield, enhanced crop quality and improved predictability. 

In this respect, the CoE covers all critical knowledge required to successfully build a vertical farm or modern greenhouse including plant science, lighting application, Internet of Things (IoT) control and engineering design. 

Besides developing our own light recipes, we are also pleased to collaborate with leading research institutions in Asia to further build up the innovation and expertise needed and promote sustainable horticulture practices in Singapore and beyond. 

What’s next for Signify?

This CoE is the first of many exciting milestones in horticulture for Signify in Singapore. We believe that we have an exciting opportunity to develop exciting knowledge in Singapore that will promote more sustainable practices in horticulture that contribute to global food security.  

We look forward to collaborating with local growers, professionals and also with local research institutions to do so.   

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has recently been signed with Republic Polytechnic and we look forward to partnering with the institution on mutual efforts to support Singapore’s 30 x 30 goals. In addition, we will also be contributing our expertise to plant growth trials with a premier local research institution starting in the first quarter of next year and look forward to promoting innovative and sustainable practices in AgriTech in Singapore.