As population aging and decline start to cast a shadow on rural areas, Japan has been facing a continuing shortage of workforce for its agricultural production.
To ensure access to safe, nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables, Japanese farmers are now turning to drones and robots that used to be exclusive in the hands of tech-savvy consumers. Ehime Prefecture, well-known for its top-quality mikan orange, is among the first places to embrace changes.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the number of orange growers in Ehime Prefecture today (2,167 households) is half of what it was 20 years ago. Lack of intelligent tools and scientific management methods, as well as the reliance on manual labour for pesticide sprays, are limiting the scale of smallholder farming.
To cope with these problems, Ehime Prefecture has established the plan to achieve smart agriculture system for "future mikan (mandarin orange)". This is based on the agriculture ministry’s "Comprehensive Measures to Enhance the Productivity of Fruit Tree Farming", introducing advanced technologies such as robots, ICT and AI to improve yields of high-quality fruits.
The demonstration was conducted in Yoshida-cho of Uwajima-shi, Ehime Prefecture, Japan.
Exploring ways to improve the production efficiency of local mikan orchards is the mission of both business and government. On March 2021, XAG Japan, together with Ehime Prefectural Mikan Research Institute, conducted a ground-air demonstration of its P30 agricultural drone and R150 unmanned ground vehicle in an orchard of Yoshida-cho.
At the Yoshida-cho of Uwajima-shi, heavy rains often affect orange plantations that are mostly located on steep slopes. For example in 2018, a torrential rain had put many citrus farms into collapse, while many farm roads and monorail for fruit transportation got broken.
To remedy damage on orange crops in such extreme weather, farmers are keen for professional equipment which can help them complete post-disaster recovery and resume orchard production as soon as possible especially on sloped wet ground.
XAG staff introducing R150 to local farmers.
Seeing the potential of aerial solutions, Ehime Prefecture plans to use agricultural drones to help farmers conduct pest control in a timely manner. It is believed that traditional field sprayers should be replaced to save time and labour.
During the trial, XAG agricultural drone and the R150 farm robot were tested by their effect of droplet distribution on orange trees. Ehime Prefectural Mikan Research Institute carried out various drone spraying evaluations by using water-sensitive paper in the test site. The results showed that the droplets were atomised finely and adhere evenly to the orange plants, with both the drone and robot meeting the crop spraying standards.
Farmers and agricultural experts, who watched the demonstration, said that they had high expectations for the unique portfolio of drones and robots to relieve their burden. They were raring to put these two devices into smart orchard management, showcasing an excellent example of private-public collaboration on agritech.
Water-sensitive paper was deployed among the test site to test the spray effect.
Since 2019, the Japanese government has decided to raise its national export goal of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and food to $19.28 billion dollars in the year 2025 and $48.21 billion dollars in 2035. These target numbers set a higher demand to speed up the transformation of Japan's agricultural production system.