Driver­less robot trac­tors take Ja­pan a step closer to ‘un­manned farm­ing’

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

A NEW ro­botic trac­tor has been un­veiled at a re­search farm run by Ja­pan’s Na­tional Agri­cul­ture and Food Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

With no-one in the driver’s seat, a worker stand­ing off to the side used a tablet com­puter to make the trac­tor stop and go.

When the trac­tor reached the edge of the field, it made a rapid U-turn. In no time at all the field was ploughed.

The trac­tor’s mo­tions can be mon­i­tored on a screen, which al­lowed the worker to op­er­ate two trac­tors si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Kub­ota Corp has started test-mar­ket­ing of a trac­tor that can plough both wet and dry fields. It uses satel­lite lo­ca­tion data to move au­to­mat­i­cally at a high level of pre­ci­sion, with only a few cen­time­tres of er­ror.

“In the fu­ture, we will achieve ‘un­manned farm­ing’ in which AI will com­pre­hen­sively an­a­lyse satel­lite, me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal and other data so robot farm ma­chines can op­er­ate au­to­mat­i­cally,” said Yuji Tomiyama, a Kub­ota ex­ec­u­tive.

Firms in Ja­pan are al­ready mar­ket­ing self­driv­ing trac­tors.

An­other area of progress is in the use of small drones.

Agri­cul­tural drones are used not only to spray chem­i­cals and mon­i­tor crops, but also to de­tect out­breaks of harm­ful pests us­ing spe­cialised im­age anal­y­sis soft­ware.

In rice farm­ing, “in­ter­net of things” tech­nol­ogy is be­ing used to con­trol the f low of wa­ter into and out of pad­dies.

“Farm­ers can use a smart­phone to au­to­mat­i­cally open and close a paddy’s in­put and out­put valves to reg­u­late wa­ter lev­els.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment’s ex­per­i­ments in­clude ef­forts to make farm­ing more prof­itable, such as by aim­ing to in­crease the value of pro­duce by at least 10pc while also de­creas­ing pro­duc­tion costs by at least 20pc.

“Smart tech­nol­ogy has the po­ten­tial to dra­mat­i­cally change farm­ing,” said Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Takamori Yoshikawa.

How­ever, farm­ers are feel­ing a mix of hope and anx­i­ety.

“Farm work gets harder ev­ery year and au­to­ma­tion could prob­a­bly re­lieve a lot of that bur­den,” said a 68-year-old who grows mainly rice on about four hectares.

“But things like self­driv­ing trac­tors are too ex­pen­sive. It doesn’t pay for small farm­ers to buy them.”


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