The founder of Artisan Green grows greens and supplies more than 50 stores

Artisan Green is recognized as one of Singapore’s leading indoor hydroponic farms, as well as a leading supplier of locally grown spinach.

Combining Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and machine learning, the only human resources it employs include agricultural experts and gardeners.

However, the background of the founder of Artisan Green is far from agritech. Immediately after graduating from the University of Melbourne in 2009 with a degree in economics and finance, Ray Poh jumped into the casino gaming industry.

Based in Macau from 2010 to 2016, Ray worked in both a casino game manufacturing company – Weike Gaming Technology – which manufactures slot machines, gaming tables and systems, as well as in a company that operates a casino.

A modern farmer

Ray spent most of his years in Melbourne before working in Macau. After nearly 15 years living abroad, he longs to spend time with family and friends in Singapore.

When he returned to Singapore, he decided to study non-gaming industries, focusing on green and sustainable industries.

He knows he wants to pursue something that is forward-looking and will allow him to make a meaningful contribution to the economy. It motivated him to study more agriculture; especially hydroponics and vertical farming.

Growing up in Singapore, farming was one of the furthest professions on people’s minds. The possibility of bringing modern technology to the agricultural sector is what interests me.

– Ray Poh, founder of Artisan Green

He was inspired by the way Singapore secures the nation’s water supply with its four national taps, and this prompted him to think about how to contribute to the nation’s food security.

Ray continued to delve into the field of agriculture in general, taking courses and building prototypes for farming. Through his own experimentation, he saw how food was grown from seed to fork, and it spurred him to transform the industry.

From seed to table

Located in Kallang, the indoor hydroponic farm specializes in the production of leaves and herbs using Controlled Environmental Agriculture techniques.

Currently, their young leaf products include the main product of baby spinach, red baby kale and a salad mix called Kallang Raw. Meanwhile, its herbs include basil, chives, coriander, dill, mint, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.

artisan green indoor farm
Ray and his team work on indoor farms / Photo source: Artisan Green

The whole process from seed to table takes about three weeks.

It starts with buying and testing seeds and figuring out which ones give the best flavor and yield to the operation.

They then plant the seeds in their growth tray and let them germinate for up to a week depending on the type of crop. The seedlings will then grow for almost three weeks before passing them through the harvester.

Finally, the team sorts the products and packs them in their retail packaging, ready to ship to their customers.

However, coming from a non-farm background, Ray encountered many people who doubted his ability to build and operate a farm.

Some vendors would not entertain our group due to our farm’s stub. We had to do extensive sourcing to source our own. We also faced scaling issues when we started because I only had experience in growing the product in a small prototype system. So we had to calculate rush operations in the first year.

– Ray Poh, founder of Artisan Green

Artisan green machine
Left to right: Precise nutritional dosing instrument and multi-head weigher

Also, most farm machines are designed for larger scale farms and are too large or expensive for a small scale operation. As a result, Ray and his team had to think hard and source machines in alternative industries to find something suitable for their farm.

Combine machine learning with traditional techniques

Since founding Artisan, Ray and his team have collated data to make the right decisions for the farm.

Following a colleague’s suggestion, Ray applied AI to improve their decision-making process. However, even with enough data, the process is still not fast enough to handle situations in real time.

A variety of parameters go into the growing plant. These include climatic conditions such as temperature, wind speed, humidity, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as nutrient structure – there are varying amounts of individual compounds. make up the nutrient solution.

Due to the overwhelming number of parameters, he and his team are looking at a multivariable problem that cannot be solved with one hand. To solve this problem, Ray is working on creating a digital twin tree with a database of stored parameters.

This allows us to build a virtual farm to simulate the response of plants to different climates and nutrient formulations that we can include in the model.

Along with the precision in-house nutrient injector we have developed, we can also control nutrient profiles to the level per grow bed as required. As a result, we can look at the life cycle of crops with a greater degree of precision and create crop models in our virtual farm.

– Ray Poh, founder of Artisan Green

Packaged product / Image credit: Artisan Green

The overall process is highly sustainable, as precise dosing disperses only what the crop needs. It also reduces fertilizer waste by 50% and water use by 90%.

Combining the use of vertical farming techniques with a digital farming management system is the ideal combination of science, engineering and commercial viability – this is what Ray says the agriculture industry is all about. has not yet been achieved.

To make sure the technology is well maintained, Ray and his team also keep an eye on all of their equipment and plan ahead for any possible machine failure.

They conduct regular maintenance and also make sure that they have spare parts available. Automating processes also protects against minimal mistakes that can be caused by human error.

Success is measured in partnership

According to Ray, he has invested six figures in the farm so far. Much of the funds have been invested in R&D, especially since it is the core pillar of the business.

Taking into account pure farm operating costs without R&D, Ray says they managed to break even by early 2022. He adds that their revenue has grown more than 10 times since 2018 and They currently supply more than 50 stores, including Fairprice Finest, Little Farms and RedMart.

We have also been sought to consult other farms due to the difficulties behind growing young spinach indoors. Having such large international farms seek us out confirms our scientific approach to agriculture and reflects our team’s expertise and hard work in the young industry. this young.

– Ray Poh, founder of Artisan Green

From left to right: Partner-ready packaged herbs, Produce available on the Fairprice website / Image credit: Artisan Green

To ensure that the business is profitable and sustainable, Ray says it is essential for him to understand the details and experience of running an agricultural operation, as well as how to develop their sales channels. surname.

One of Artisan’s biggest partners is NTUC Fairprice Finest. Ray and his team approached them with samples for their committee to conduct a test session.

“Once we got in, we sold out every week. Customers recognize the difference in our fresh produce compared to imported goods,” he shared.

Transition to greener grasslands

The growth of the business soon saw the demand for agricultural products exceed its supply. Currently, they are in the process of fundraising to build a new 5,400 square meter farm by the end of 2022.

The new farm will nearly 20 times increase the production capacity of Artisan’s existing farm. In addition, it will include full automation to increase productivity.

Ray and his team have also developed their own proprietary hardware to integrate into their farming software operating system. This scalable and deployable technology will take the farm further into the digital age.

Artisan also plans to deploy its system in a greenhouse so that it can grow local vegetables that are available to the mass market at an affordable price.

Our current focus is on the regional market in Asia going forward, as it is closer to home and it is easier for us to assess the viability of the farm. However, this does not preclude the option of expanding to other regions of the world.

We also intend to cooperate with other international partners to build more farms and also provide our technology to the world in the future.

– Ray Poh, founder of Artisan Green

Despite the many plans to grow the business, Ray admits that local farms alone may not be able to produce all of Singapore’s consumer demand.

“With so many regulations governing land use, finding a suitable site can be a challenge as one will have to adapt the rules set by different government agencies. So to be able to operate a large-scale farm can be a difficult and time-consuming business even before construction happens.”

However, he added that Singapore is still needed to be able to play a large role in contributing a significant proportion to the food supply. This is essential to minimize supply shortages from other countries.

Featured image credit: Artisan Green

Read more: Farm to fork: This S’pore startup digitizes the agricultural supply chain to benefit F&B players

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