The forefront of Agritech. Utilization of satellite data to ask users and solution development [WARP STATION Conference Vol.1 Report ③]

We will deliver a digest of the conference event “WARP STATION Conference Vol.1” held on October 8th. Following Session 1 discussing the contributions of the space industry in the context of sustainability, we will listen to the voices of each industry.

The theme of Session 3 is “Utilization of satellite data that appeals to the sustainable market.”

The agricultural field is often cited as a use case for the utilization of satellite data, but in Japan, the situation is still in the future.

What are some of the bottleneck challenges? Two young farmers and a person in charge of a start-up company that supports the utilization of satellite data took the stage as panelists to explore the needs of users and solution developers.

Average age 67 years. What is required in aging agriculture?

Agricultural work is carried out in a world that is so precise that even a deviation of only 3 cm is unacceptable. I also use agricultural machinery, but I think there is room for further technological improvement. I think there are many farmers who are still waiting and seeing. “(Mr. Kaneko)

This is Mr. Kento Kaneko, who grows rice in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. Mr.Kaneko is a project “National Agricultural Youth Club Liaison Council” (commonly known as the 4H club), in which young farmers in their 20s and early 30s play a central role in examining methods and better technologies for solving problems in agricultural management. While introducing cutting-edge technologies such as satellite data, drones, and sensors, the land equivalent to five Tokyo Domes is managed.

Mr.Kaneko points out that his challenges in the agricultural field is “aging farmers”. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 69.8% of the agricultural working population is 65 years old or older. The average age increased from 61.1 years in 2000 to 67.8 years in 2020. From this figure, we can see that the aging of farmers is progressing rapidly.

In addition, the agricultural population is declining significantly, and it is said that the amount of agricultural land per capita is expanding.

The spread of smart agriculture such as automatic operation of agricultural machinery using GPS and GNSS and monitoring of agricultural land by satellite data will lead to support for newcomers to agriculture and those who manage large-scale agricultural land. Isn’t it?

Like Mr. Kaneko, Mr. Hiroki Aizu, who has experience as an officer at the 4H club and runs an apple farmer in the Tsugaru region of Aomori prefecture, also took the stage as a panelist.

Mr. Aizu uses satellite data to grasp the position of fruit trees and manages work with loT sensors. Mr. Aizu said that it is important to use the tool first in order for the tool to spread among farmers.

“Satellite data is still a long way off for us as farmers, but I don’t think the tools will improve and the prices will not be cheaper unless the farmers use them to give their opinions. It is necessary to work closely with the satellite data operators. “(Mr. Aizu)

User cooperation is essential for solution development

Meanwhile, Ms.Ayano Kido, CEO of sorano me Co., Ltd., which provides consulting services for companies that are trying to enter the space business, talked about the difficulty of commercialization using satellite data. The factor lies in the characteristics of satellite data, but it can be solved depending on the team working on solution development.

“You can’t know what satellite images can be used for without actually analyzing them. It’s difficult to get a budget in a situation where you can’t say” maybe you can get the information you want, “and it’s hard to try. I feel that this is an issue. Those who will take on the challenge of utilizing satellite data together … It is important how we can find early adopters. “(Ms. Kido)

In order to develop a solution, it is essential to have users who not only analyze satellite data but also try it out.

So who can be an early adopter? Mr. Aizu, an apple farmer, says that the key is a “severe farmer” who has an excellent track record that represents the region and the crop field.

“There is a kind of flow in which excellent farmers called tokunouka use the tools, and the farmers around them also start using the tools,” (Mr. Aizu).

It’s a good idea to approach an organization like a 4H club, but only some farmers are attending the gathering. By involving more influential farmers, it may lead to the penetration of solutions.

One of the characteristics of satellite data is that it can shoot a wide range at once. If neighboring farmers get together and purchase satellite data together, it will be possible to reduce the cost.

In addition, the development of solutions will be smoother with the participation of “bridging human resources” who can propose solutions to problems to experts in each industry, which was mentioned in Session 2 on the theme of social infrastructure monitoring. I can think of it.

How to control the farmer’s enemy “disease”?

In the second half of the session, discussions proceeded on more specific content, such as what kind of tools are required.

Mr.Kaneko, a rice farmer who has introduced a growth diagnosis service that utilizes satellite data, says that the data needs to be updated once a week.

“In the case of rice, if you get sick or get insects, you have to spray the medicine before it spreads in the wind. The disease progresses to the next stage. It’s a week, so I check the growth status at least once a week. “(Mr. Kaneko)

This weekly frequency is based on the practice of manually checking without relying on tools. In the future, if the frequency of photography by satellite increases and it becomes possible to observe farmland freely, new needs may emerge.

On the other hand, Mr. Aizu, an apple farmer, revealed that harvesting fruit trees is an assembly line, so even if there is satellite data that can judge the growth situation, it is not clear whether it can be used.

However, as with rice cultivation, the spread of pests and the outbreak of pests are issues that affect the yield, and it is a panelist that there may be demand for identifying agricultural land that has been left unattended. I saw it from the discussion.

“Apples are particularly sensitive to disease, and disease-causing bacteria can fly from farms a few kilometers away. Therefore, if there is farmland that has not been mowed, it will be immediately noticed. Also, the relationship with the local residents is an important industry. If there is a farm with fallen leaves, you will notice it, and you will notice “Is this the source of the disease?” But this is seen from the sky. I think you can understand it.”(Mr. Aizu)

If it becomes possible to easily identify the abandoned land, it should be beneficial not only to farmers but also to local governments.

The session was limited to 50 minutes, but by bringing together those who are actually engaged in agriculture and the solution development side, on-site needs, from business issues to concrete solution proposals such as detection of abandoned gardens have emerged. I think it was a session where you can feel the potential of satellite data and space technology in the agricultural field.

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.