May 31st, 2017 | PRODUCT , PEOPLE

Real world demands lead to new "High Density Seedling" rice transplanter technology

Yanmar's low-cost labor-saving "high density seedling" technology, was chosen as the "Newest Agricultural Technology/Variety 2016" by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The technology increases revenue by significantly reducing the number of seedling trays required and lowering material costs—saving labor and raising the efficiency of rice production. An added benefit is that by having more space available, producers can grow more seedlings. Demonstrations at expos and tradeshows have generated strong interest throughout Japan.

Y MEDIA interviewed those behind the development of both the high density seedling technology itself and the rice transplanter optimized for high density seedlings. From our Agricultural Operations Business, we interviewed Mr. Doi and Mr. Sawamoto, who have dedicated themselves to developing high density seedling technology, and Mr. Miyake and Mr. Nakamura, who were responsible for coming up with the "high density seedling specification" applied to the YR-D Series new model rice transplanter.

Kunio Doi
Senior Project Manager, Strategic Market Development Group Overseas Business Promotion Division, Agricultural Operations Business, Yanmar Co., Ltd.

Joined Yanmar in 1998. After engaging in combine development for about three years, Mr. Doi moved onto rice transplanters development where he has nearly 25 years’ experience. Involved in rice transplanter advanced technology development since 2009, he is currently engaged in all aspects of tractors, combines, and rice transplanters.

Kazunori Sawamoto
Senior Engineer, Advanced Component Group, Fundamental Technology Research Division, Research & Development Center, Yanmar Co., Ltd.

Joined Yanmar in 2016. Previously worked for the Ishikawa Prefectural Agriculture and Forestry Research Center, he is now currently engaged in high density seedling research. Involved in high density seedling cultivation since early 2012.

Koji Miyake
Senior Engineer, IT System Cooperation Development Division, Development Division, Agricultural Operations Business, Yanmar Co., Ltd.

Joined Yanmar in 1999. Since joining the company, Mr. Miyake has been responsible for the development of rice transplanters. Engaged in advanced technological development from 2012, he is currently working on the launch of the new model rice transplanters (YR) in the Product Development Department.

Shoichi Nakamura
IT System Cooperation Development Division, Development Division, Agricultural Operations Business, Yanmar Co., Ltd.

Joined Yanmar in 2011 where he has been involved in rice transplanter design. Together with Principal Engineer Mr. Miyake, he is responsible for the final design of the high density seedling rice transplanters.

The development of high density seedling rice transplanters starts by listening to what the growers had to say.

“Is it possible to lower costs by sowing lots of seedlings and reducing the number of seedling trays?" ――

The development of Yanmar's high density seedling specification rice transplanter started by first listening closely to growers who expressed a keen interest in streamlining their work to save labor. To achieve increased sowing, required a rice transplanter that could make a finer pick from a denser seedling mat. However, the performance of existing rice transplanters was inadequate. With that, Yanmar agreed to develop a rice transplanter compatible with high density seedlings in conjunction with the Ishikawa Prefectural Agriculture and Forestry Research Center (hereinafter, Ishikawa Agri-Research), which was in charge of establishing the cultivation technology. In collaboration with Agri-Star Onaga agricultural producers' cooperative corporation and Butta Agricultural Products Corp., the growers whose feedback initially got the ball rolling, we launched a joint research program in 2012.

In the first year, no dedicated rice transplanter was available. Therefore, preliminary testing was conducted by setting up an existing Yanmar rice transplanter to pick the minimum amount. Positive results from the preliminary tests led to commercialization of the program, and the following year in 2013, Yanmar began testing with rice transplanters featuring a full-scale implementation of the new sowing technology. At Ishikawa Agri-Research, we conducted sowing, seedling propagation, and rice transplanter tests using three patterns: 200 g, 250 g, and 300 g.

Since 2013, we have continued to research planting conditions and misplanting occurrence rates from a cultivation perspective. We have achieved results that compare favorably to established cultivation growth, yield, and quality benchmarks.

Demonstration Days a complete success: "Spring has never been so much fun!"

By 2016, the high density seedling demonstration tests, which were initially only conducted with farmers in Ishikawa prefecture, were rolled out to 342 locations involving 51 varieties nationwide from Aomori to Kagoshima.

In response to high praise for our high density seedling technology, we announced the YR Series. The response from our customers has exceeded expectations. Our sales distributors were so excited they told us that "Spring has never been so much fun!"

Scenes at the exhibition held in Niigata prefecture, November 25–26. A dense seedling corner was established to present lectures on dense seedling technology.
Scenes at the exhibition held in Niigata prefecture, November 25–26. A high density seedling corner was established to present lectures on high density seedling technology.
The response exceeded our expectations, with standing-room-only attendance.
The response exceeded expectations, with standing-room-only attendance.
Scenes at the exhibition held in Shiga prefecture, December 13. An uninterrupted stream of customers came specifically to visit the dense seedling corner.
Scenes at the exhibition held in Shiga prefecture, December 13. An uninterrupted stream of customers came specifically to visit the high density seedling corner.

Demonstrations at all our sales distributors were also a great success, indicating a strong interest in our high density seedling technology.

We were very happy to hear many of our customers who watched our demonstration tests say "I'll buy a rice transplanter!" "I'm switching to high density seedlings next year."

Improvements, such as claw miniaturization, provide highly accurate planting

Together with demonstration testing of our high density seedling technology, we are also putting our efforts into developing rice transplanters that are compatible with high density seedlings. To accurately pick smaller sections of the seedling mat, we started by miniaturizing the rice transplanter claws and optimizing the number of lateral feeds of the seedling trays. To maintain the strength of the claws, we revised the steel quenching process to increase the strength of the parts. The number of seedling tray lateral feeds, for which the maximum was formerly 26, was reconfigured to 30.

Due to the huge response to the high density seedling technology, things became hectic at times. Initially we planned to sell a “high density seedling” kit which we hoped would find favor with a group of customers who would then install it into their rice transplanters. However, due to the massive response from the market, we are now producing a dedicated “high density seedling” rice transplanter model at the factory and ship it with the specifications configured.

We invested a lot of effort making it all come together, including the redesign of some components.

Although we were kept very busy responding, once we reached the marketplace, the dealers could confidently recommend our high density seedling technology and compatible rice transplanters and they have reported back to us that their customers are also very happy.

Providing new solutions by making things together

Listening to what the customer needs and taking that as the basis of our development has been a significant factor behind the success of high density seedling technology. “Our collaborative efforts, with Yanmar making the machinery and gathering the cultivation data at test plots, led to rapid development and popularization in the field,”

said Mr. Sawamoto, looking back on the project. And finally, Mr. Doi...

We really reaped the rewards of being able to create something by working alongside the farmers that needed it. Numerous ideas for development of new technology cropped up in conversation, with a variety of new concepts also being floated,

explained Mr. Doi.

The day of providing new on-site solutions with Yanmar's advanced technology and new products is drawing near.