Singapore: Urban farm certificate for Sky Greens' organic vegetables

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - National standard aims to tackle challenges such as limited land, lack of soil and water.

Buyers of mini-vegetables from the first vertical farm here can now be assured the greens are grown without the use of artificial fertilisers or pesticides.

Sky Greens, an urban farm in Lim Chu Kang, has received certification under the world's first national standard for organic vegetables grown in urban environments. The standard was developed here to address key challenges such as limited land, lack of soil and water, and higher operating costs due to energy consumption and manpower constraints.

Sky Greens received the Singapore Standard 632 (SS 632) certification for organic primary produce from Control Union Certifications yesterday. It was developed by the Food Standards Committee under the Singapore Standards Council. Urban farms worldwide, including importers, exporters and retailers, can apply for the SS 632 certification.

Food Standards Committee chairman Allan Lim said the certification would increase consumers' confidence in local produce and give Singapore's agri-food industry a certain level of recognition.

Such certification can improve farmers' reputation and make them more competitive internationally, he said. "The certification may allow local urban farms to expand into markets outside of Singapore. It can help local urban farms to be on an equal footing with those in the US, for instance," said Dr Lim.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who witnessed the certification presentation, said there is growth potential for local farms, given the increasing demand for organic food.

He said the global organic food and beverage market is expected to grow to US$320 billion (S$437 billion) by 2025, with the fastest growth expected in the Asia-Pacific.

He also said the Singapore Food Agency will develop "clean-green standards" for urban vegetable farms that adhere to high standards but are not strictly organic.

Sky Greens harvests 500kg of produce - such as mini-cai xin, jie lan and Chinese cabbage - every day for sale at FairPrice Finest outlets.

The farm grows 10 times as many vegetables as traditional farms, using tiered towers - up to 9m tall - that hold rows of Asian vegetables.

The rotating metal towers, which are housed in glass buildings, allow all plants to get a uniform amount of sunlight, so there is no need to use LED lights, as many urban farms do. They are rotated by a water-pulley system that uses collected rainwater, with the same rainwater used to grow the crops.

The newly certified mini-vegetables arriving at FairPrice Finest from today will cost 50 per cent to 60 per cent more. Previously, the mini-vegetables cost $2.75 per 150g.

To avoid using pesticides, Sky Greens started producing mini-vegetables in 2017. It harvests the vegetables when they are smaller, at between 21 and 24 days old, before insects appear. Normal-sized vegetables take 40 days to mature.

Dr Ngiam Tong Tau, who headed the working group that crafted the SS 632, said it plugged a gap in organic certification for urban farms.

"Organic farming practices have increasingly been adopted worldwide in open field soil-based farms. But there is now a rapid decline in arable farmland and more farms are being developed in urban areas," said Dr Ngiam, who is also chairman of Sky Urban Solutions Holding, which owns Sky Greens.