AVA encourages Singapore’s farms to embrace technology, particularly in terms of automation that serves to overcome manpower constraints. Hi-tech mechanised systems can also help to raise productivity. In addition, innovation and automation make the farming sector more attractive to the younger generation. In turn, they will bring their ideas and energy to the sector and play a part in ensuring Singapore’s food security.
AVA’s Agriculture Productivity Fund (preceded by the Food Fund, which was available from 2009 to 2013) plays a vital role in rejuvenating the farming industry here. These funding schemes help farmers to adopt advanced production methods. Successful applicants, such as Seng Choon Farm and Yili Vegetation and Trading have successfully used the Food Fund to automate farm processes and increase productivity.
Seng Choon Farm used to produce about 410,000 eggs every day from its premises in Lim Chu Kang. With a shot in the arm from AVA’s Food Fund in November 2014, Seng Choon took about a year to raise daily production to 450,000 per day.
The improved output was a result of installing the Grower House System and Layer House System for housing pullets and hens, respectively. These systems helped to reduce manpower requirements, and the key to this has been the larger-scale use of automation.
In the Layer House System, hens can perch on raised bars within a colony cage that is more spacious than traditional ones. A slight gradient along the cage floor allows eggs to roll gently onto an automated collection belt as they are laid. The manure falls through the wire mesh floor onto a conveyer belt for automatic removal. In addition, automatic nipple drinkers are installed to ensure adequate water supply at all times.
“Seng Choon sees upgrading and automation as a way to stay competitive and reap benefits from new technological or scientific development.”
Mr Koh Yeow Koon, Managing Director, Seng Choon Farm
In the Grower House System, positions of the automatic feeder and nipple drinkers can be easily adjusted according to the size of the chicks as they grow. In both systems, climate control is automated to ensure the optimal health of the birds.
The returns on investment certainly did not come instantly. Rearing areas for young chickens and laying hens had to be rezoned. While construction and installation was being carried out, a lot of work was put into designing effective workflow controls and putting in place additional biosecurity measures.
Despite the time and effort required, Seng Choon is encouraged by the increased productivity. It is currently undergoing major upgrading works to further raise annual production to 220 million eggs, or over 600,000 per day.
Automation has been the way forward for one successful vegetable farm too. Yili Vegetation and Trading received funding from AVA in February 2013. It used its award to purchase horizontal pillow packing machines, which replaced the old way of manually inserting and sealing vegetables in their packaging.
The increase in efficiency was easily noticeable – previously, it took eight workers six hours to pack one tonne of vegetables. With the new machines, it would take just five workers four hours to pack the same amount. In all, about 84 man-hours per day were saved. Going automated also meant having to redesign the packaging to suit the packing machine and in all, the switch also took more than a year.
“Singapore’s agriculture is very important, and to sustain it there is a need to increase production and overcome climate changes. In order to do so, we need to learn, upgrade, and change the way we work. New methods and innovative systems will help attract the younger generation to take up farming.”
Mr Alan Toh, Director, Yili Vegetation & Trading
In addition to its new packing machines, Yili Vegetation and Trading upgraded its cold room storage facilities from a capacity of 10 tonnes (three days’ supply) to 25 tonnes (a week’s supply).
A bigger, new refrigerated truck was also purchased. This meant that the freshness of vegetables can be better preserved before reaching retail, thus reducing wastage.
Not resting on these improvements, the farm is now upgrading its greenhouse system with electrical roll up films, so that ventilation and the amount of sunlight entering the greenhouse can be controlled.
In 2009, the first tranche of AVA’s Food Fund was launched to support food diversification efforts and local farm capability development to enhance productivity. Subsequently, two more tranches were launched in 2011 and 2013. Under the Food Fund, AVA awarded 310 projects and disbursed $17.5 million, as at 31 March 2016.
In 2014, AVA’s Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) replaced the Food Fund. APF provides funding support to local farmers seeking to expand their production capabilities through investment in new farming systems, equipment, and infrastructure. As at 31 March 2016, 38 projects were awarded and $1.17 million were disbursed.