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Japan: Ag ministry to utilize ''4th industrial revolution'' technology

Emerging technologies of “the fourth industrial revolution”, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and robots are to be utilized by Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to improve the quality of agricultural products and efficiency of farm work.

The ministry plans to make agricultural businesses more “aggressive” by utilizing these technologies to complement the aging farming population and address the workforce shortage in the sector. It aims to cut costs and improve quality.

The ministry will include relevant expenses in the fiscal 2016 supplementary budgets and its budgetary requests for next fiscal year.

Robots are being considered for such work as mowing farmland. The ministry aims to put robotic farm mowers into practical use by subsidizing development costs of companies, research institutions and other entities.

The robots will have an autonomous cruise function that uses AI technology similar to that used in robotic vacuum cleaners used in homes.

The ministry will promote the spread of robots by realizing low-cost production of them. A new learning system is being eyed for new farmers in which a database would be compiled based on the experiences and techniques of veteran farmers. The system could be designed to help them learn the timing to harvest fruit through using visual images of produce.

Experienced farmers are considered to possess valuable information about such things as judging the proper time for harvesting fruits and vegetables. The ministry also will analyze such weather information as air temperature and rainfall based on big data to determine appropriate amounts of irrigation and fertilizer.

The labor shortage in the agricultural sector is serious. The domestic farming population decreased to about 2.1 million in 2015 — which is about 80 percent of the 2010 figure. The average age of farmers is 66, with those aged 65 or older accounting for more than 60 percent of the farming population.

As the physical challenges of farm work are becoming more difficult for more and more farmers, work-saving efforts and passing down farming techniques to new farmers have become urgent tasks.

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