Fully automated facility at ITE to train students in high-productivity urban farming

Mr Tasswin s/o Vijaykumar (left) and Mr Ethann Lew during the opening of Horticulture Technology Hub at ITE College East on Nov 10, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Trays of Red Amaranth growing inside Horticulture Technology Hub at ITE College East on Nov 10, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A fully automated farming facility was launched at ITE College East on Thursday, as part of Singapore’s efforts to boost training in high-productivity agricultural skills.

Known as the Horticulture Technology Hub, or HortITEch Hub, the 92 sq m lab – about the size of a four-room HDB flat – will train students in the agriculture and aquaculture technology work-study diploma course that will be launched in 2023. 

ITE College East students who are now in courses such as horticulture, food science and even mechanical engineering will be involved in its day-to-day maintenance. 

ITE College East School of Engineering director Alfred Tan said that around 500 students will benefit from the additional exposure provided by the new hub. 

Referring to applied food science students, Mr Tan said: “These students can go back to their labs to do some testing on the nutritional value of the crops grown here.”

He added that entrepreneurship opportunities for students are possible, as the greens harvested from the lab can be sold. 

In this way, the lab will provide an array of multidisciplinary opportunities for students, he said.

Mr Tan said the work-study course will facilitate cross-pollination of technologies between industry partners and the facility, boosting productivity. 

“As the students are likely expected to work four days a week in their jobs and spend a day in the facility, the hope is that they will be able to bring technologies and processes learnt at the workplace to the facility, and vice versa.”

This may be a stepping stone to helping Singapore reach its 30 by 30 goal, where 30 per cent of the country’s food needs will be produced domestically by 2030, he said.

A separate aquaculture hub is being prepared to complement the work-study programme, said Mr Tan, adding that more details on the programme and aquaculture centre will be announced at a later date. 

Student Ethann Lew, 17, said that being given the opportunity to train at such a facility will equip him with relevant skills come 2030.

The mechanical engineering student said: “If Singapore really becomes an agri-tech hub by 2030, I believe that many countries, especially those with a lot of land, will reach out to us to maximise their yields and borrow our expertise.” 

Citing US agri-tech start-up AppHarvest, which produces vegetables in indoor environments, Ethann said that the skills he learns will enable him to consider international jobs as well. 

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