Japan turns to drones to replace ageing farmers

As farming communities age and more young people opt for office careers, Japan’s agriculture sector is turning to drone technology. The agriculture ministry plans to use drones to bring farming into the 21st century and make life easier for the shrinking number of people who work the land. Recent leaps in drone technology mean many tasks can now be carried out by remotely operated aircraft.

“Drones are easy to handle and can operate at many different types of site, such as in hilly areas and mountains,” a ministry official said.

The ministry is to conduct a series of field tests, in which drones will be used to spray crops with pesticides and fertilisers, sow fields, artificially pollinate fruit crops, transport agricultural equipment and conduct airborne surveys of fields hit by drought or disease.

Kevin Short, a professor at Tokyo University of Information Sciences who has been involved in government programmes to increase the use of technology in agriculture, said the ageing of the farming labour force had been “a plague on the sector for some years now”.

“Young people don’t want to work in jobs that are seen as being dirty, dull and not very well paid, while young women really have no desire to marry into a farming family when they can have the bright lights of the city.

According to scmp.com, the government initiative comes as part of a package of proposals for the sector. These include changing the law to allow agricultural corporations to purchase small and unprofitable farmland and to amalgamate it, cutting costs through economies of scale, as well as other technological advances.

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