back to article Why are Fujitsu and Toshiba growing lettuce in semiconductor plants?

Fujitsu’s foray into growing lettuce is not meant to be a revenue stream, but rather a necessary step in convincing farmers to start utilising ICT, the tech giant’s boss has told us. Which is just as well, as the clean-room grown lettuce the IT giant unveiled last week will produce revenues of $3.8m this year, according to our …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    The next step...

    Would be to convert their chip-baking ovens to pizza-ovens so they can have

    precise control over temperature and duration of the baking process...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The next step...

      You laugh, and I hope it's not an urban legend now I mention it but I seem to remember a story about a semiconductor fab failing an unusually large number of wafers on the night shift because a security guard was using an oven to bake pizza... Apparently the pizzas were contaminating the wafers.

      Quite what the chemicals used to process the wafers were doing to the pizzas I shudder to think.

      1. Gerhard Mack

        Re: The next step...

        I'm not so sure there would be much left of the pizza after being heated to 600C

        http://www.cham.co.uk/phoenics/d_polis/d_applic/d_chem/cvd/transien.htm

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Minecraft

    Following Minecraft example: Stacking many floors of food production into a skyscraper-esque building for food production convenience.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Minecraft

      Until a Grief comes in and TNT's it like with my pumkin farm (Had a process in place to squash the pumkins then wash them into a area where I could pick them up) :(

      1. toxicdragon

        Re: Minecraft

        Damn you, now I have to try that, so much for getting work done today.

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

          Re: Minecraft

          Don't have friends help (As they tend to find crushing you to death in your machine funny)

          1. toxicdragon

            Re: Minecraft

            Have to admit I play FTB, don't know of any servers running that.

  3. Unicornpiss
    Pint

    Seems like there's a better cash crop...

    I'm sure they could come up with a more "herbal" crop to maximize their profits than lettuce. As a side note, I wonder what the air quality is like in that room after years of being used to fab semiconductors that contain nasties like arsenic...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Seems like there's a better cash crop...

      Insanely clean - when a single atom can ruin a crystal you tend to have pretty good air filteration

      And heavy metals tend not to leap out of Silicon wafers

    2. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Seems like there's a better cash crop...

      There's probably less random arsenic in that air than in your house's. There's a reason they call them clean rooms.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems like there's a better cash crop...

      Put it this way, intel's clean rooms for example are 1000x cleaner than a hospital operating theatre.

      So air quality etc will be spot on. There's a reason all of the tools using nasties are purged and vented through extractors, scrubbers and abatement systems. Companies generally aren't fond of the fab workers dying...

  4. JDX Gold badge

    How delightfully bizarre.

  5. Don Jefe

    Not Enough Money

    They should have grown pot, it has decent margins.

    I'm not sure the folks who dreamed this grand plan up know where food comes from or has any idea of how little money is involved in small/medium scale staple product agriculture. It's cool they've discovered indoor greenhouses and all, but even with a 3x retail cost increase it's still far cheaper to import food from South America.

    60-65% of the food eaten in Japan is imported and there's simply no financial advantage to replacing high density, high value urban real estate with foodstuff production. It doesn't matter how much technology they throw at the issue, there's no way to outperform the cost and volume efficiencies of the overseas producers supplying Japan with food. The costs of imported food will only continue to fall as urban areas in Japan expand and overseas agriculture grows larger and more efficient. The financials simply don't make sense.

    There's no way a couple of giant electronics companies don't have a really good understanding of scale production. This whole thing seems like one of those projects that the children of executives come up with while they're at university. Complicated, inefficient and expensive.

    1. fnusnu
      Stop

      Re: Not Enough Money

      Whoever said it has to make sense? Where's your spirit of adventure?

    2. sandman

      Re: Not Enough Money

      Oddly, it does make a sort of sense, particularly to the Japanese. If you have a small, relatively infertile land area with bugger all in the way of natural resources and a large population you have to import nearly everything. I'd suggest that the Japanese remember that one of the reasons for Pearl Harbor was the potential effectiveness of US sanctions. They'd also remember the utterly crippling effect of the US submarine and air blockade. By 1945 their entire economy was toast and people were getting very, very hungry.

      From a strategic point of view it would make sense to have a secure food supply, or even the option of quickly developing one. Secure energy would also be possible, raw materials not so much.

      1. JLV
        Joke

        >From a strategic point of view it would make sense to have a secure food supply

        That's where all that whale research comes in...

    3. Asylum Sam

      Re: Not Enough Money

      Did you miss the part where it talked about how they were being targeted at people with various specialist food requirements? This isn't about mass producing food, it's about tightly controlling the food to give a specific result. If they're already selling them at 200% above the standard product price, it shows there's a niche waiting to be filled.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Not Enough Money

        The Japanese will always be 100% import dependent, there's zero advantage in even trying to offset agricultural imports when you're 60%+ upside down. It's an impossible equation, an unwinnable proposition.

        I didn't miss the specialized food bit, but there's still no economic advantage. Even at 200% premium at market the math simply does not work. The actual production margins are upside down from the outset. There just enough product volume or velocity to offset the investment and maintenance costs. A 200% margin at market sounds like a lot, but it isn't. It's rather disingenuous of them to even give a price per head at market. You don't make your money in production with unit pricing, that's how distributors and retailers work, but not producers.

        The pricing information they are providing is effectively meaningless and is designed for people to see the 200% and not ask about the production costs. They're comparing apples and stoats and everybody is excited at the cute little stoat and forgetting the apples. Market price has no bearing on production costs and if you'll note, the actual production costs aren't discussed. Even on their websites they gloss over the actual value of the project resources.

        I've been in business a long time and I've seen just about every manner of proposal cross my desk. This isn't a money maker if you aren't selling the technology. That's not my opinion, that's math.

    4. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Not Enough Money

      Importing food from developing countries gives them the money to develop at which point they start consuming what they formerly exported. Toshiba are thinking ahead

  6. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Apparently if they used a different herb in the same hydroponic grow rooms, they would pay for themselves quite quickly.

    1. frank ly

      That would be legally difficult, especially in Japan. Maybe they could set up a legally controlled 'special zone' with the herbal produce containers being sealed and then only exported to Colorado and similar places? Even then, it would be a niche product with a high price.

    2. D@v3

      thats the other clean room

      that the visitors were not allowed to see

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This

    is just the tip of the iceberg.

    1. Scott Broukell

      Re: This

      just be cos.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: This

        Rocket science

  8. TRT Silver badge

    Can you even grow...

    potatoes hydroponically?

    Anyway, when I read the article, I was ROFLOLloROsO.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Can you even grow...

      It would take a different setup than your usual kit, but there's not much preventing you from hydroponically growing potatoes and other root crops.

  9. Cliff

    Bacon flavour lettuce

    As they're controlling the source nutrients so closely they can affect the flavour. Bacon flavour lettuce anyone? I would.

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Bacon flavour lettuce

      "As they're controlling the source nutrients so closely they can affect the flavour. Bacon flavour lettuce anyone? I would."

      I got shouted down for a similar situation when dealing with a worldwide market. Because this would be unsuitable for countries that follow the Muslim faith, the idea would be destined for a massive fail.

      Send all your prototypes this way though. I want some!

      1. Spoonsinger

        Re: unsuitable for countries that follow the Muslim faith...

        Since when couldn't they eat lettuce?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is nothing new, well except the location

    Lettuce (and many other veg) is often grown in huge production lines, that slowly shift along to be harvested, or under "perfect conditions" that's why modern fruit and veg is so bland.

    Grow your own carrots (can be done easily in a pot) and compare

    Want proof of mass production?

    http://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2012/01/30/9150384/Tanimura.Antle.LivingLettuce.jpg

    http://seedstock.com/2011/12/26/san-diego-startup-locally-grown-hydroponic-lettuce-roots-intact/

  11. Terry 6 Silver badge

    revenue steam?

    They might not be after a revenue stream, but they are still charging 3xnormal price to hospitals.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: revenue steam?

      No, they are growing a special kind of lettuce that people hospitalized on special diets can eat. Presumably, the place the hospitals used to get that kind of lettuce charged more than 3 times normal price.

  12. Robert Sneddon

    Pricey fruit and veg

    Japanese specialist fruit and vegetable growers already charge eye-watering prices for premium produce like bunches of grapes for £40 a kilo and individually-packed peaches costing more than £4 each. They're not run-of-the-mill items but luxury gifts, unblemished and visually perfect. Most cheap fruit and veggies are imported and sold in Japanese supermarkets at almost-reasonable prices.

    Folks who buy organic produce pay three times the "normal" price anyway and that's big business in the Western world. This sort of production qualifies as organic, no pesticides and herbicides required since it is literally a clean-room operation so the actual price is not unreasonable. I've seen reports of similar operations being launched in California and elsewhere based on sealed greenhouses fed with filtered air and water rather than repurposed clean-rooms.

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Pricey fruit and veg

      "Japanese specialist fruit and vegetable growers already charge eye-watering prices for premium produce..."

      Like the square watermelon. Not very popular, but it fits in your fridge neatly, and it costs lots more, so obviously must be better to the ones who have more money than sense.

  13. AndrueC Silver badge
    Joke

    Lettuce hope it all works out well.

  14. TRT Silver badge

    I dropped the platter on the ground...

    It was a butterhead crash.

  15. Matt Piechota

    Mmm, Lettuce.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGvUkHFzIZ8

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You knew greens were bad for you

    Nothing to do with Iceberg lettuce being a great way to clean up contaminated land...

  17. wdmot

    I presume "ICT" in this context stands for "information and communications technology" rather than "in-circuit test". Although I suppose in a way the latter could fit as well ;-)

  18. Martin Budden
    Go

    I also grow lettuce, but instead of a clean room I grow mine outside in dirt. Downside: bugs & slugs. Upside: very cheap and very fresh.

    Yes I know this isn't an option for many people (especially in Japan), and my lettuce wouldn't be suitable for those hospital patients with kidney problems, but since I do have the opportunity I'm making the most of it.

    Icon is green and round like a head of lettuce, sort of.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yay for the

    Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.

    (goes to get coat)

  20. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I would have thought a better option would be to make PV

    Inefficient but much cheaper polysilicon PV could be made cost effectively in the early 80's when electricity was a lot cheaper - I'd imagine nowadays you could hammer it out cheaper than roof tiles with a little bit of effort.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen

    It's sad to see them reduced to this.

    1. gregthecanuck
      Happy

      Re: Oh, how the mighty have fallen

      They're just turning over a new leaf

      Sorry, couldn't resist.

  22. Tom 13

    Yamamoto needs to stop in fly-over country instead of just denigrating it.*

    “is still is an industry where people do work based on their knowledge and their skill sets and intuition.

    Agricultural farming today is almost as high tech as working on a server farm. You establish the exact position of your farm, contract to a satellite data analysis service and have them fax or email you the data on how much fertilizer, pesticide, and water to add to which portions of the field. If you're on the bleeding edge of the technology, you get a data download with GPS coordinates to plug into your tractor to automate the process.

    *Absent that, maybe he should at least catch up on his Lois and Clark episodes. Lois made the same gaff when visiting Clark's parents.

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