What Takumi Minamino
Saw by Riding and
Touching the Latest
Minamino learned that there are various challenges in the agricultural world and there are professionals fighting to address them.*The previous article is here.
Minamino listened to what an expert on smart farming had to say and became extremely interested in what’s happening in the agricultural industry right now. What he chose as his next course of action was to see and experience an actual site where agriculture was being performed. To do this, he headed towards a large farm about an hour’s drive from Yanmar Agri Solution Center Sendai.
1. Listening to the Stories of Farmers Practicing Smart Farming
With paddy fields as far as the eye can see, surrounded by the greenery of the mountains and water, a single large piece of agricultural equipment sat in the middle of an agricultural area in harmony with nature. It was Yanmar’s latest machine: the “YT5113A Robot Tractor.” Minamino often saw agricultural equipment being driven along the road in Izumi, Osaka where he spent his early childhood, but the agricultural equipment here was completely different from what had seen at that time.
“They look really cool now.”
This machine—also known as a robotic farming machine—stood in the paddy field exuding a strange and rugged air that seemed at odds with the term “smart” farming. As Minamino looked at the machine, two men began talking to him from behind. They were Tetsuya Kurosawa, a young farmer trying to pave the way for the future using smart farming, and Katsutoshi Tobori of Yanmar Agri Japan’s Wakuya branch, who provides logistical support as an accompanist to this initiative.
Kurosawa explained that he manages the farmland around this area and produces crops such as rice and vegetables. Wanting to hear the opinions of actual farmers, Minamino asked Kurosawa,
“Why did you start to use such a large piece of agricultural equipment like this?”
In response, Kurosawa gave the following answer.
“The agricultural industry to date has been struggling with a shortage of workers. Younger generations rarely want to join the industry and even if they do, they quit immediately. It can’t be helped considering the fact that some time ago, the work was done by wearing boots and carrying heavy equipment. So how do we turn this into a world that young people will be interested in? The best way is to make it so that the work can feel like playing a game. It’s now possible to enjoy performing farm work as if playing a game by tilling rice paddies using autonomous driving technology and spreading fertilizer using a drone. I think that the mission for our generation is to use smart farming in this way to build an appealing world.”
Minamino felt that it was the same with football. When asked what the secret to continuing to play football was, he always replied, “to have fun.” Minamino had always enjoyed football, from early childhood to this very day. He looked forward to every day because of football and he continues to play today as an adult because it was fun. It felt that something clicked for Minamino.
While Minamino was nodding in agreement with what Kurosawa had said, Tobori, another Yanmar employee who was standing next to him starting talking about the challenges in the agricultural industry.
“This issue of the shortage of workers in the agricultural industry also actually applies to us, the equipment manufacturers as well, who are in the position of supporting our customers. In order to provide broad, uniform support, we ultimately need people. Increasing the number of people involved in the agricultural industry is a challenge for the agricultural industry as a whole. That’s why we want to start showing the younger generations that this is what the agricultural industry is like now.”
Increasing the number of workers is an earnest desire that is shared among the people who are involved in the agricultural world.
2. Riding and Touching the Farm Equipment
“Do you want to try riding it?”
Asked this question by a Yanmar employee, Minamino was hesitant but asked, “Can I?” before stepping into the YT5113A Robot Tractor with a slightly nervous expression.
Minamino sat in the driver’s seat and once he operated the tablet, autonomous driving started immediately. Leaving everything to the automatically moving tractor, Minamino looked around in wonder. He also appeared to be somewhat relieved by the tractor providing a more stable ride than he had expected. Looking through the window behind the driver’s seat, he checked to see if they were really moving in a straight line.
After some time, the tractor stopped, and the Yanmar employee in the passenger’s seat encouraged Minamino to do something. Then, Minamino grasped the steering wheel and began driving. He had turned off the autonomous driving and started maneuvering the tractor himself. Before he knew it, the nervous expression on Minamino’s face had disappeared.
This was Minamino’s first time actually driving a tractor, and it was more sensitive and difficult to maneuver than he had thought. Minamino thought he was driving straight using tire tracks from earlier as a reference, but when he looked back at where he had been maneuvering, the tire tracks twisted widely to the left and right. Despite being able to freely manipulate a football ball, Minamino could not get the agricultural equipment to move the way he imagined.
Next, Minamino experienced applying fertilizer aerially using a drone. The drone, which had been readied in a footpath between the paddy fields, was equipped with a tank to hold fertilizer.
“Is it really possible for a drone loaded with such a heavy object to fly stably?”
That doubt was immediately laid to rest. When Yu Fujii of Yanmar Agri Japan AgriSupport Department began operating the remote control, multiple propellers began to loudly spin at the same time.
The drone then slowly rose several meters and began to spread water while flying over the paddy fields in stable motions. Apparently finding the stability of the flight to be greater than he had imagined, Minamino looked up at the drone from the ground and marveled, “I see. It seems like farm work will proceed rapidly with this.”
When Minamino finished the farm work, we asked him about it. Minamino gave a boyish grin as if he had just finished playing football and told us the following.
“When I tried driving the tractor, I learned how difficult it is to drive one accurately. However, by using GPS and other technology, anyone can drive it accurately. I felt that the high level of technology and its significance. I was also surprised at how it’s also possible to precisely maneuver drones and perform work in a fun way, as if playing with a radio-controlled model.”
Next, we asked Minamino how he felt about the future that smart farming would bring about. While recalling what the experts in the agricultural industry taught him, Minamino told us the following.
“Smart farming will not only improve productivity, it will make children who see the agricultural site think it’s cool and become interested. I also learned that it has an important meaning in terms of automating and labor saving that has been difficult until now, thereby lowering the barrier to agriculture and increasing the number of people who want to take up agriculture. Agriculture has overcome the image of being laborious and evolved to become something that people can enjoy doing. It was a big deal for me to be able to learn that.”
3. Minamino’s Heightened Sense of his Mission at the End of the Day
As the sun started to set, Minamino’s day to learn about the current state of the familiar agricultural industry was finally drawing to a close. What did Minamino feel during this day? Looking at the paddy fields that extended in front of him, it looked as though he was posing a question to himself.
“My sense of curiosity—wanting to know more and wanting to feel more—was piqued. My feeling of wanting young people in generations who don’t yet know about this to learn about it, grew stronger.”
“What is something that I can do right now?”
After starting his day thinking that, Minamino was finally on the verge of finding his answer.
If more people start to ask themselves questions, there will be one future action for each person who asks the questions. What can I do, starting right now, for the future? And what types of actions can I encourage people to take?
Athletes aren’t simply contestants. They should be voices that convey something to as many people as possible through their existence and their actions. Having realized that, Minamino started to feel that he had a mission to convey the challenges of the agricultural industry far and wide.
“I want to act to get people who know about me to learn about these challenges. By engaging in actions such as those I tried today, I gained a sense of mission to have as many people as possible take an interest. What I can do right now is to use my existence to get many people to learn about these challenges.”
A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE — Creating New Value in Society Through Technology—
Strangely enough, after experiencing Yanmar's mission statement, Minamino happened to take a new step toward the future once again.
(Author: Taisuke Segawa)