New Trends in Agricultural Development--Sarabetsu, Hokkaido

New Trends in Agricultural Development--Sarabetsu, Hokkaido

Kate Lin(China Productivity Center Agriculture Innovation Department)

Global food shortages and uneven distribution are problems getting more and more serious. Small-scale agriculture is no longer capable of providing enough supplies to a large market. An important issue facing Taiwan’s agricultural sector now is how to promote rural development through agro-industry development layout, industrial zone production and marketing planning, and the incorporation of information and digital technologies, so as to promote the industrial scale enlargement and centralization. It just happened that the report of Sarabetsu, Hokkaido came to our attention and Director Katsuhiro Ono of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative, Sarabetsu (JA Sarabetsu) has accepted our invitation to visit Taiwan to share the development experience of Sarabetsu in Hokkaido.

The Tokachi area in Hokkaido is the food base of Japan. Sarabetsu, a typical agricultural area, is located in the southern part of the Tokachi, with 70% of the total area as farmland. In addition to cold-zone crops like potatoes, wheat, beans, and sugar beets, the crops also include sweet corn, cabbage and other vegetables, forming a complete crop rotation system. The husbandry is also well developed. The 2018 statistics shows an average of 677 metric tons of raw milk production per household. And the combined livestock and farming turnover is about 13.2 billion yen per year, making it the most wealthy rural area in Japan.

Figure 1 Agricultural Development in Sarabetsu

Sarabetsu’s agriculture is mainly large-scale mechanized agriculture, with each household owning an average of five tractors. The policy of environmental and pesticide reduction is implemented for safer agricultural and livestock products. Similar to the promotion of agricultural management zoning in Taiwan, the JA Sarabetsu has expanded the composting and maturation facilities in order to reuse agricultural waste and promote environment sustainability through resource recycling. Despite the increasing scale of agricultural management, the number of farms, however, has been declining. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the expenses on the maintenance of farm roads, drainage canals and other facilities and the protection of farmland.

Japan’s agricultural problems are similar to those in Taiwan, mainly those of rapid aging and the shortage of manpower. Smart agriculture, therefore, has become an important policy in Japan. "スマート農業の実現に向けた研究会" established in 2013 developed the blueprint and action plans for smart agriculture in 2014. The Agricultural Data Collaboration Platform (WAGRI) was launched in 2019 and the "Promotion Plan for the Implementation of New Agricultural Technologies" was formulated. The Plan aims to incorporate advanced technologies, including ICT and AI, as powerful tools to implement management strategies and improve competitiveness, and to allow farmers, enterprises, research institutions and related stakeholders to reach a consensus. The content includes the following:

Figure 2 The Framework of the Promotion Plan for the Implementation of New Agricultural Technologies

1. The blueprint of agricultural management (8 types, 22 cases in total): 5 cases of paddy fields, 2 cases of dry fields, 4 cases of open-air vegetables, 1 case of greenhouse gardening, 1 case of flowers and trees, 1 case of tea, 1 case of fruit trees, 4 cases of livestock production

2. The routes of various technologies (6 categories, 37 types in total): 7 cases of droning, 14 cases of robotics, 7 cases of environmental measurement and control, 2 cases of individual livestock management, 3 cases of inheritance of production management system, and 4 other cases, with a timetable of certification, launch and promotion as of 2025.

3. The plan to promote the realization of technologies (5 directions): understand new agricultural technologies, test new agricultural technologies, introduce new agricultural technologies, establish an environment for practicing new agricultural technologies, promote the development of new agricultural technologies, and integrate these programs.

In response to the policy of promoting smart agriculture, Sarabetsu and Iwamizawa City jointly proposed in 2018 to plan a "Zone of Smart Industry Innovation", in which AI, IoT, autonomous driving, and droning and other pioneering technologies are used to achieve local innovations. The main tasks of the "Zone of Smart Industry Innovation" include:

1. Measures planned for primary industries: The goal is to allow unmanned autonomous tractors to operate on public roads, promote various methods of using drones, and to establish and promote advanced IoT technologies in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

2. Measures planned for introducing migrant workers in agriculture: To allow migrant workers to engage in agriculture, industry, commerce, and care-giving industries.

3. Measures planned to ensure convenient accessibility to farmland: Promote the service of white-plate vehicles.

Measures currently adopted in Sarabetsu include:

I. Hardware:

   1.Tractors equipped with GPS navigation and automatic steering used in dry fields

   2.Milking robots used in dairy farming

   3.Feeding robots

   4.Delivery monitors (camera) and feed moving robots

II. Software:

   1. JA member information managed by Tokachi Area JA Member Comprehensive Support System (TAF)

   2. The "Agricultural Contingent Worker Daywork" app adopted to ensure manpower supply

   3.The "JA Connect" app adopted for information sharing between JA and its members

The use of technology and development of smart agriculture will accelerate in Sarabetsu. However, the current broadband coverage in Sarabetsu is less than 40%, according to Mr. Ono. The rural and field communication infrastructure must be constructed before the development of smart agriculture. Another concern is that the many labor-saving and high-efficiency machines and systems of smart agriculture still need to be operated by humans, that is, farmers. Therefore, an important task for Sarabetsu is the training of skilled users of the smart agricultural machinery and systems.

Taiwan, like Japan, is facing the problems of an aging population and small scale of agricultural operations. The Council of Agriculture, under the Smart Agriculture 4.0 Project, has adopted two themes "smart production" and "digital services," with the aims of improving the overall agricultural production efficiency through smart production, and building a comprehensive agricultural consumption/service platform with the IoT and big data analysis technologies. At the same time, with the aim of solving the fragmentation of agricultural lands and the consequent difficulty of large-scale operation, the "Spatial Planning Act" was enacted in 2016 to re-examines land conservation, marine resources, agricultural development, and urban and rural development. The agricultural competent authority also attaches great importance to the development of the agricultural industry and the planning of agricultural production and marketing zones. The goal is to make the land suitable for use and to pursue enlargement of the scale and centralization of the industry. In addition, the broadband coverage in rural Taiwan is one of the highest in the world, which means strong potential for smart agricultural development. It is expected that, with the effort on integrated planning of agricultural land use, the designation of special agricultural zones, and the adoption of smart technologies, a bright new prospect of rural life is now in sight and the sustainable development of agriculture can be realized.