• Kyodo

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Farm equipment manufacturer Yanmar Co. and precision equipment maker Konica Minolta Inc. are pushing the automation of Japan’s agriculture amid an aging and decreasing farming population.

The two companies this month launched a joint venture to conduct a pilot project in which they will use a drone to observe rice crops and an unmanned helicopter to scatter fertilizer. The venture, FarmEye Co., is headquartered in Osaka with a capital of ¥250 million.

The partners expect the project to help farmers increase their earnings by allowing them to provide fertilizer to areas in their paddies that most need it.

Using a special camera loaded on the drone that can sense the degree of light absorption by leaves, farmers will be able to easily grasp the growth levels of rice.

Yanmar holds a 51 percent stake in the joint venture and Konica Minolta owns the remaining 49 percent.

A test employing the same remote sensing technology by Yanmar and Konica Minolta, together with Yamagata University, confirmed that the method leads to increased yields for some rice varieties.

The FarmEye project mainly targets large-scale farmers who have difficulty getting a complete picture of growth levels across their entire rice paddies. An aerial assessment by drone for 1 hectare will be priced at around ¥12,000, with a separate fee for scattering fertilizer.

The 2015 census of agriculture and forestry showed Japan’s farming population shrank by around 60 percent in 30 years from 1985, when comparable data became available, while the average age of farmers was 66.3.

The farming population stood at 1,922,200 as of Feb. 1, 2016, slipping below the 2 million mark for the first time, according to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry data.

Yanmar and Konica Minolta eye applying the technology for other crops such as wheat and soybeans.

The joint venture is planning to expand its service overseas, mainly in Asia, with the aim of posting ¥10 billion in sales at home and abroad in fiscal 2023.

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