Autonomous equipment was the topic of discussion at last month’s G20 summit, hosted in Niigata, Japan. According to The Japan Times, amid growing difficulty in the industry, larger Japanese manufacturers are pushing data-optimizing and field-tracking technology to help bridge the productivity gap.
According to an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report on Japan’s agriculture released May 11, the nation’s agricultural production decreased by more than 25% since 1990, while the number of commercial farm households and agricultural workers declined by more than 50% in the same period. This comes alongside a rise in bigger, corporate farms; those making ¥30 million ($277,216) or more annually account for only 3% of the industry’s farms, while creating more than 50% of Japan’s agricultural products.
Vocal figures at the summit included Susumu Hamamura of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as the founder of Water-Cell Inc., Hirotomo Nagai. Both advocated for increasing adaptation of IoT, satellite technology and drone technology. Nagai specifically promoted Water-Cell’s mobile app Agri-note, which aims to assist Japanese farmers in tracking the care of their fields via mobile phone.
With most Japanese farmers owning multiple, small fields that they check by hand, a large amount of time and effort is required just to maintain and organize them. Apps like Nagai’s seek to middleman the process and streamline the Japanese farmer’s daily routine, by tracking the crops grown and the amount of fertilizer and pesticides being used. This, combined with tractor sensors to gather soil data and satellites to gather crop growth patterns, can play a big role in increasing the efficiency of the small farmer.
However, Naoya Matsudaira, an academic researcher who operates the organic Singing Paddy Farm in Kyoto, argued that the tech in Niigata catered only to large scale operations. The needs of the small farmer, he claimed, are more immediate, like repairing irrigation systems, finding younger farm hands, lowering distribution costs, surviving increasingly destructive weather patterns: larger problems not solved by a drone.
With Japan’s agriculture export market on track to reach ¥1 trillion ($9,240,521,500) by 2020, however, the opportunity to enter the industry has never been better. Shingo Kimura, an agricultural policy analyst at the OECD, said, as agriculture around the world becomes more technological and data-driven, and given the government’s increased emphasis on agricultural exports, there will be more opportunities for those in Japan seeking to become farmers.