Hiroshi Kurita, CEO, co-founder, seak inc. opens the discussion with his difficulty going from his career in television to becoming a farmer, and found other people were having similar difficulties. To help farming productivity, Hiroshi-san founded an agricultural platform, LEAP. Hiroshi-san is joined on the stage Hiroto Kitagawa, the CEO of Plant Data, and Hiroyoshi Iwata, Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Biometry and Bioinformatics at the Tokyo University.
Hiroto-san explains that Plant Data measures a plant’s bio information and provide service to utilize that data for cultivation management. The data and cultivation management allows for automating care of the crop, increased yields, and lower production costs. The technology has been adopted in the Netherlands and soon in North America. The technology can also be applied producing plant-origin medical-use protein, which will help cascade down the technology to the business level.
Hiroyoshi-san has been working on accelerating the process of creating new varietals of plants. Usually it takes many years to create and test the viability of a new hybrid or varietal. Koshihikari rice took 11 years to develop, and the Kasui pear took 18 years. Current breakthroughs that help speed up the process are the decrease in price for DNA analysis, and new AI and machine-learning tech. Combined, the AI can process the DNA analysis and formulate a prediction if a species will be viable without a time-consuming cultivation test. Propagation of new varietals would benefit from building an ecosystem that would support each part of the process.
This is a lot more technology-speak that most farmers are used to, explains Hiroshi-san, but in order to increase the average income of farmers and make the farming lifestyle more attractive and sustainable, this technology is necessary. To date, however, there’s still a gap between the new farming technology and it’s use on farms. Hiroshi-san asks Hiroto-san to expand on why that is the situation.
Hiroto-san explains that in Japan many farms are still “mom and pop” shop, and if they’re looking to just survive, there are subsidies to support those farmers without the farmers themselves having to be a superb manager of their resources. The farm isn’t run as a typical business like it is more globally, in particularly like the United States. The Department of Agriculture in the United States focuses on exporting its agriculture, for example there are only about four major tomato farms in the U.S. and they’re run like large scale companies. For Japan to start using agriculture technology, both the farmers and the Japan Dept. of Agriculture need to start looking at it as a corporation. Plant Data, for example, will go in to a rice farmer’s land, help reduce the amount of land it takes to produce the rice, and help the farmer run their rice production more like a business.
“In agriculture, it isn’t as easy to “add value” like one would do in industry or in manufacturing, however utilizing IoT and improving productivity and yields, you are able to do it.” – Hiroyoshi Iwata, Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Biometry and Bioinformatics at the Tokyo University.
While both the big data and innovations from Hiroto-san’s company and Hiroyoshi-san’s research are making great strides, Hiroshi-san points out that there’s a lack of this information flowing directly to the farmers. The work being done needs a new marketing strategy to convince farmers to push for farming innovations to be more widely available. There is hope there can be more collaboration in the future, and marketing to get current and future farmers interested in technology and agriculture data.