Agri-food tech firms can tap $55m grant

Singrow co-founders Bao Shengjie (left) and Xu Tao developed an indoor hydroponic farm for strawberry production. It can produce up to eight tonnes of strawberries per year at full capacity - 20 times more compared with what a conventional strawberry
Singrow co-founders Bao Shengjie (left) and Xu Tao developed an indoor hydroponic farm for strawberry production. It can produce up to eight tonnes of strawberries per year at full capacity - 20 times more compared with what a conventional strawberry farm of the same size can achieve. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

ESG grant to help local farms work on high-yielding solutions

Over $55 million has been set aside by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to help local agriculture and aquaculture companies grow.

The grant will be used to boost their innovation capabilities, so they can work towards resource-efficient and high-yielding farming solutions.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told reporters yesterday that the $55 million grant complements Singapore's "30 by 30" goal - to cover 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030 through local production.

"While there is a separate pot of funding for the 30 by 30 (target), the idea is to give added support to existing players in the market so that they can innovate and ramp up their capabilities quicker.

"In some ways, (it is) to provide better food resilience during the Covid-19 crisis and therefore make use of this crisis to hasten our 30 by 30 target," he said.

Dr Koh added that he sees the agri-food tech sector as an area of growth, bringing together "industry, enterprise, and research and development".

This will lead to "cross-pollination of ideas", potentially securing interesting jobs for Singaporeans.

Since the start of the year, investments of at least $40 million from both public and private sources have been made in agri-food tech start-ups.

Home-grown start-up Singrow is working closely with ESG for its expansion plans.

The company has benefited from the Startup SG Accelerator programme since receiving mentorship guidance on top of investment support last year.

The programme helped Singrow develop innovative cultivation methods for high-value crops such as strawberries.

Set in a repurposed sports hall with a 6.5m-tall ceiling, the company's indoor farm spans 500 sq m.

It can produce up to eight tonnes of strawberries per year at full capacity - 20 times more compared with what a conventional strawberry farm of the same size can achieve.

Dr Bao Shengjie, co-founder and chief executive officer of Singrow, said that the controlled environment of the indoor farm - its lighting, temperature, concentration of carbon dioxide and the acidity of the soil made of coconut peat - has helped reduce the time needed to cultivate the strawberries by around 30 per cent.

Artificial intelligence is also being used to pollinate and harvest the crops.

The seedlings, which were cultivated earlier this month, will yield a first harvest in September of around 200kg or 1,200 punnets of strawberries.

Once the workflow has been fully automated, the company can have nine harvests in a year.

Dr Bao added that Singrow plans to establish a larger facility for commercial crop production by early 2022, with a view to expanding overseas, in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

It also aims to perfect its technology for licensing to other companies, for the development of crops like leafy vegetables, which are in higher demand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2020, with the headline 'Agri-food tech firms can tap $55m grant'. Print Edition | Subscribe