Changing the Future of Japan's Agriculture: Yanmar's "Smart Agriculture" Using ICT

※Smart agriculture is nearly like precision farming.

The "34th International Agricultural Machinery Show" in Obihiro (2018). The International Agricultural Machinery Show (IAMS) is the largest agricultural machinery trade show held every four years at Obihiro in Hokkaido, Japan. This year, the show was held from July 12 to 16 with a theme of "A better future with ICT (Information and Communication Technology)". Among the latest agricultural machinery exhibited by Japanese and international manufacturers, Yanmar Agri Japan showcased the concept of "Smart Agriculture" including Robot Tractor that uses ICTs. To know more about initiatives to solve the various challenges faced by Japan's agriculture, Y MEDIA team visited Hokkaido, and covered the 34th IAMS. In this article, we will introduce "Smart Agriculture" to the readers through Yanmar's exhibition booth. In the above photograph, Taiki Kugai (from AgriSupport Department, Agriculture Development Department, and ICT Promotion Group) is standing in front of the latest model of Robot Tractor. Taiki, who looks over ICT at Yanmar's Hokkaido branch, walked us through the exhibition booth.

One of the things at the Yanmar booth that particularly grabbed the most attention was the product demonstration that allowed the visitors to experience the Robot Tractor via simulation. The operation and driving conditions in accordance with the movement of the displayed machine was displayed on the monitor.

Yanmar exhibited the future way of agriculture at Japan's largest agricultural machinery show.

Yanmar's booth showcased products that use ICT, such as Robot Tractor. In this show, Yanmar put forward the concept of "Smart Agriculture" for the younger farmers of the next generation. "Smart Agriculture" is a new form of agriculture that encourages labor saving and high-quality production by using advanced robotic technology and ICTs. The booth received particular attention from the visitors, with more than 6000 visitors on each day. Through this exhibition, many people realized the futuristic way of agriculture with product demonstrations of the Robot Tractor ahead of its launch in the coming autumn, and products that substantiates introduced concepts of farm management services using state-of-the-art agricultural machinery and systems.

The Robot Tractor and other actual agricultural machinery were on display, and the endless queue of customers who lined up for the test drive was unbeatable.

For the current challenges faced by Japan' agriculture, ICT is one of the up and coming solutions.

With current challenges such as aging of farmers and lack of successors, it can be said that Japan's agriculture is at major crossroads. The Hokkaido's agricultural community, which is the forefront of Japan's agriculture, is grappled by these same challenges. Moreover, the current situation of massive increase in agricultural land and wide variety of yields has only worsened the problems. In Hokkaido, every farm has an average of 24.92 hectare land (*1) which is 10 times more than the national average of 2.46 hectare (*2). The large-scale farms individually include 50 hectares of land or more. To achieve the sustainable agriculture, it is necessary to change not only the work efficiency but also the methods used in agriculture.

  • (*1) and (*2): Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Statistics "Agricultural Structural Dynamic Survey 2018 (as of February 1, 2018)"
    1 hectare = 10000 square meter
While the number of farmers is decreasing, the demand for food increases with the increase in global population. Now, more than ever, "Smart Agriculture" has become necessary.

We asked Taiki to tell us more on Yanmar's concept of "Smart Agriculture".

Yanmar's concept of "Smart Agriculture" involves supporting the advanced agriculture by utilizing ICTs.

"Smart agriculture" promoted by Yanmar envisions a forward-looking agriculture that promotes labor saving and high-quality production by using the state-of-the-art robot technology and ICTs. With challenges such as lack of successors and large-scale area under cultivation, now is the time for an efficient, data-based agriculture, and not for the agriculture that continued so far on the basis of experience and mere guts feelings.

For example, because the Robot Tractor or Auto Tractor obtains location information from the satellites and carry out operations automatically with high precision, there is no need for skills to maintain accuracy and precision, leading to reduced fatigue. Once the operating information or work records gathered from these agricultural machines are digitized via SmartAssist such that the customers can verify status of their machinery and farm land on their smart phones from anywhere, and supports farm owners in managing farms more effectively. In the remote sensing service in which aerial photographs of rice plants are taken with a special camera-mounted drones to analyze the growth conditions, by suggesting potential causes for insufficient or uneven growth, if any, to the customers to improve the farm land, yield maximization and quality improvement is achieved. The customers can verify the growth state, good or bad, identified via the remote sensing from their smartphones. Because the service give the analysis results without getting affected by light or angle of light caused due to hours of shooting or climate, age-based comparison of farm land conditions is possible.

Coordinating not just one but all tasks, and repeating PDCA (plan-do-check-act) certainly helps the customers save or reduce labor of the farm workers, and maximizes the productivity and enhances work efficiency. Shifting most of the tasks performed by the farm workers to robots and equipment powered by technology and supporting farm owners in managing farms more effectively embodies the Yanmar's concept of "Smart Agriculture". A new form of agriculture that is crucial for future.

High horsepower is the strong point of the Robot Tractor. Yanmar was able to commercially produce such high horsepower-equipped tractors much ahead of other companies.

The Robot Tractor that Yanmar started to develop from 2011 will be available for sale in autumn this year. As the high precision tasks can be controlled via just the tablet without the operator having to ride the tractor, even on land where it is difficult to till straight, the tractor can be driven accurately. Moreover, while riding the tractor; one person can coordinate one additional unmanned tractor, enabling simultaneous automated work of two tractors. Even beginners who have no experience driving a tractor can seamlessly control the Robot Tractor, and by doing so, experienced tractor drivers can focus on other work, resulting in increased efficiency and reduced labor. Such improvements increase work efficiency greatly, but the main strength of Yanmar's Robot Tractor is its versatility in a wide range of fields and rice paddies. With more than 88-horsepower, the Robot Tractor can work large fields with precision. In North America and Europe where farms are large scale operations, there is a demand for autonomous tractors that deliver on versatility. Being the first company to meet these needs, is one of Yanmar's strengths.

A dream tractor with high precision and high horsepower that does not require any unnecessary labor will soon be available for sale.

Advantages of Adopting "Smart Agriculture"
Yanmar employees are practicing model farm management from customers' perspective.

Yanmar's "Smart Agriculture" benefits all the customers across the base, and helps them evolve toward better agriculture. To be able to confidently propose such ideas and thoroughly convince the customers of its advantages, we ourselves are practicing model farm management on Yanmar's demo field since 2017. We have been cultivating wheat, soybean, and dent corn that are indigenous to Hokkaido, and testing ICTs used in Robot Tractor, SmartAssist, and remote sensing services. By practicing the most advanced farm management, we are trying to get hands-on experience every day from the customers' perspective to devise a technology that would enable the customers to efficiently improve their profits. We distribute a report called "Weekly Smart Agri" among the in-house employees and share the actual methods of using the agricultural machinery with staff from Operations and Development divisions. Such sharing of information comes handy in matters such as further enhancing the products and providing support to the customers. Even I work on the farm. But, the Robot Tractor does not need any actions from the operator, makes my work easy and effortless. I get little sleepy after the lunch. With Robot Tractor, I can afford to get a little sleepy... (laughs).

We practice "Smart Agriculture" every day, right from first plowing of the farm land to planting and harvesting. We continue our testing by keeping close eye on factors including how much efficiency was achieved since adopting "Smart Agriculture".

By introducing "Smart Agriculture" to Japan's agriculture, Yanmar aims to support profitable farm management as well as respecting the blessing that is food.

In Hokkaido, where advanced agriculture is flourishing, amalgamation of agricultural machinery with information and communication technologies (ICTs) is steadily progressing. From 2013 to 2017, shipped quantity of tractors equipped with an automatic steering function has increased ten-fold, increasing from 170 vehicles to 1600 vehicles (*1) in the period of five years. In such times, not stopping at just changing the agriculture domain to an extent by introducing intelligent automation in the tractors, but also providing total support for a series of operations in farm management, starting from growth condition analysis, farm land improvement to agricultural machinery management are Yanmar's strengths. As the adoption of ICTs opens many doors of enhancement in the field of agriculture, we will continue to bring evolution to agriculture with the help of ICTs. Moreover, when it comes to food, which is an extension of the agriculture, we would like to ensure that we deliver food that the consumers can eat without any worry. From here onwards, by introducing "Smart Agriculture" to Japan's agriculture, we would like to focus on our pursuits to create a "food value chain" that would be make the farming community and the consumers equally happy.

  • (*1) Source: "Trends in shipments of GPS Guidance Systems, etc." in Technology and Challenges, by Production and Promotion Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Hokkaido Government
At the IAMS, a simulator to allow visitors to experience operations of the Robot Tractor was arranged at the Yanmar's exhibition booth. A number of people who experienced the simulation were surprised by the tractor's handiness.

Introducing Yanmar's agricultural machinery and systems supporting "Smart Agriculture"

Labor-saving and productivity-improving "Robot Tractor".

The "Robot Tractor" forms the core of Yanmar's concept of "Smart Agriculture". With high horsepower band of 88-horsepower or more, Yanmar was able to commercially produce such high-power Robot Tractor earlier than other companies. With Robot Tractors, farmers can achieve high-precision work without even to ride the tractor. It saves and reduces labor, and significantly increases the work efficiency.

Features of Robot Tractor

■ Precise work is possible even in larger-scale tasks.

■ Can be operated via one touch on the tablet.

■ Works automatically on a preset route.

■ As it uses auto mode to go straight and can be turned manually, the operator can work on headlands with ease.

■ One person can simultaneously operate one manned and one unmanned vehicle.

Click here for detailed information on Robot Tractor
A high-performance machinery with a sophisticated design that shines on the farm land is something only Yanmar can offer.

Yanmar's proprietary ICT service, SmartAssist protects the agricultural machinery and supports farm management.

The service involves monitoring customers' important agricultural machinery and managing tasks, based on the operation information and the like transmitted from the agricultural machinery equipped with GPS antenna and communication terminal. Through location information and data analysis, the service facilitates visualization of the agriculture, which until now tended to rely on experience and intuition. As the customers can understand factors including operating conditions of the agricultural machinery and working conditions of the farm land, higher work efficiency can be achieved. Because such availability of data allows the customers to compare the yield or working hours by field and year, the customers can use that data when planning fertilization or soil cultivation for next year.

Features of SmartAssist

■ Error information notification service to detect the problems in agricultural machinery in real time.

■ Theft prevention service that allows the customers to confirm the location information of their agricultural machinery.

■ Operation diagnostics and maintenance service that helps improve work efficiency and reduce running costs.

■ Operating information management tools that allow the customers to check the information on the agricultural machinery at any time.

■ Farm land information management tools that allow the customers to check the work progress on their smartphone.

■ Work management and recording tool that allows the customers to easily enter information via smartphone.

Click here for detailed information on SmartAssist

A GPS guidance and automatic steering system to help the customers work with high precision.

The GPS guidance and automatic steering system is a global positioning system that uses American GPS satellites and Russian GLONASS satellite. Because the vehicle moves and works based on the highly precise location information, the system helps minimize errors and work precisely without any waste of resources. Yanmar sells the guidance and automatic steering system manufactured by John Deere & Company. Indeed, the system can be easily installed on Yanmar's YT Tractors or Rice Transplanters, and can be transferred to another vehicle with the same ease.

Features of John Deree's Guidance and Automatic Steering System

■ Uses the proprietary satellites of John Deree, and does not require RTK base stations (*) for high-precision work.

■ Maximum difference of ±3 cm in measurements on farm land makes it possible to work precisely with no wastage of resources.

■ Easy installation and removal enables the customers to circulate one system between multiple agricultural machineries.

  • * Note: RTK is an abbreviation of Real Time Kinematic Surveying; a method in which analysis is performed on the mobile station (tractor) side based on the location information recorded at the base station to find location in real time. The base station uses a wireless device or a mobile phone to transmit the reference location information for high-precision positioning.
A receiver installed on the roof of the tractor receives signals transmitted from the satellites. Easy installation and transfer becomes a big advantage at the time of installation.

Remote sensing service that helps the customers to visualize growth conditions.

Remote sensing service involves aerially photographing the rice plants in the panicle formation stage by using a special camera-mounted drone, and helping the customers to visualize the growth conditions such as color or thickening of the leaves. After visiting a customer's farm land and taking pictures of the crops, a dedicated operator provides the customer with a growth map analyzed with using our proprietary technology.

Features of Remote Sensing

■ Customers can understand whether the growth state is good or bad at glance.

■ Suggests potential causes for bad or uneven growth conditions.

■ Useful in improvement of the farm land; contributes to yield maximization and improvement in quality.

■ Can be used in collaboration with SmartAssist.

With a dedicated operator handles the aerial photography, the remote sensing service is safe to use. The growth map is provided to the customers after five days from the day the aerial photographs are taken.

We will continue to develop products and systems that will pioneer the advanced agriculture.

Along with further upgrading the products and systems launched till now, including Robot Tractor, Yanmar is currently engaged in development of new products that would prove indispensable for advanced agriculture. Yanmar will continue to listen carefully to each and every customer's opinion, and continue our own efforts to practice and test those suggestions to change the way of agriculture with technology. We are committed to bring more and more "Smart Agriculture" products to our customers.

Yanmar's "Smart Agriculture" looks at future of agriculture where a combination of the state-of-the-art
agricultural machinery and systems work hand in hand with ICT.
Along with being committed to resolve problems and challenges currently faced by Japanese agriculture,
We will continue to take efforts towards sustainable agriculture, and help deliver the blessing of food that can be trusted.
Developing the agriculture into "food value chain" is the future Yanmar seeks.

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