Smart agriculture: The future of farming

Mizuho Digital Transformation

October 26, 2022

Smart agriculture: Leveraging digitalization to improve productivity and make both producers and consumers happy

Growing vegetables with the aid of AI and robots?
The future of farming has arrived.

“Smart agriculture” is a new style of automated, labor-saving farming that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, information & communications technology (ICT), and the internet of things (IoT), among other tools. Unlike traditional farming that requires a lot of time and labor, smart agriculture is evolving quickly to automate tasks, with vegetable-picking robots, tablet-controlled water management systems, pesticide-spraying drones, and other new technologies that are transforming the farming industry. Incorporating AI, ICT, and IoT into agriculture, we can lessen the workload involved in farming while visualizing the experience of seasoned farmers in data form. This will revitalize agriculture by allowing long-time farmers to continue working later in life while also offering strong support to help more new farmers enter the industry.

Delivering delicious produce closer to your table!
A happy change is occurring right next to where we live

We can harvest delicious and nutritious agricultural produce and make it more widely available by improving the yield and quality of harvests through data utilization and robotic automation. By tracking crop production electronically, we can provide information such as the nutritional value or farming methods used to consumers at supermarkets via their smartphones. There are also high hopes that the technology will help Japan raise its food self-sufficiency ratio, which is currently quite low compared to other developed countries. This is attributed to the large number of small-scale or part-time farmers in Japan, and the declining number of people involved in agriculture, due to an ageing population. Smart agriculture is an important initiative for supporting Japan’s food security amid changing demographics.

A smart agriculture project that originated from a consulting service

Perhaps it is hard to imagine how Mizuho has become involved in smart agriculture.

In fact, Mizuho is well-equipped to leverage data analysis technology developed within the world of finance, namely analyzing environmental conditions in fields and greenhouses, as a crucial part of smart agriculture. Mizuho-DL Financial Technology Co., Ltd. has played a key role here. Leveraging its experience from providing consultation services to agribusiness, Mizuho ventured into the new field of smart agriculture using data analysis capabilities developed over the years.

Tomatopark, a tomato growing facility owned by Seiwa Co., Ltd. in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, is lined with plastic greenhouses with cutting-edge environmental control systems. This large facility spans over 8,580 square meters, an area larger than a football pitch. With greenhouse temperature and humidity data in hand, Seiwa, a marketer of environmental control systems for horticultural facilities, thought that it could add more value by demonstrating how it can increase yields by leveraging this data. Mizuho-DL Financial Technology was selected for the task of analyzing a range of environmental data.

The first step involved amassing cultivation-related data and finding optimal ways to control the environment within the greenhouses. An analysis of Tomatopark data helped to increase an understanding of environmental controls and optimal growing methods by revealing how different environmental factors work to increase yields. The results were shared with farmers, who put the new knowledge into practice and offered feedback. After undergoing a series of revisions based on the data analysis and farmer feedback, we were able to obtain valuable insights into environmental controls.

Next, a yield forecasting model was built to predict future tomato yields. By interlinking data related to environmental conditions, tomato growth, facilities, and different plant varieties, the model is expected to boost production and cut costs by showing how much yields can be increased in a week by altering CO2 concentrations, for example, or predicting how many people or how much time will be required each day, to avoid unnecessary hiring or extra work. Furthermore, although it is generally perceived that environmental factors such as solar radiation, CO2, and air temperature play a crucial role in crop growing, this project used data analysis to demonstrate just how important these factors are, in a quantitative manner. Plans are underway to evolve this yield forecasting model further to encompass more crop varieties. By refining the model to make it usable all across Japan, and by visualizing intuition, experience, and other intangible knowledge gained by farmers over time, we hope to contribute to addressing the future shortage of experienced farmers.

Developing the farmers of tomorrow for the future of agriculture

Smart farming will be essential to addressing the evolving demographic and logistical issues at the root, so to speak, of agricultural challenges. However, it will be equally important to increase the number of people working in agriculture, increase productivity, and improve working methods. Encouraged by the success of Tomatopark, Mizuho has launched new projects. For example, it is participating in the Akita Smart Agriculture Model Generation Project, an initiative run by Akita Prefectural University, with the aim of collecting and sharing data related to smart agriculture, and has begun discussing ideas to eliminate the gap between farms and people who want to work in agriculture. With the goal of increasing the number of motivated people that enter farming, analysis is being conducted to determine the motivation of prospective farmers, and interview those who left the industry to find out why and what it would take for them to continue farming.

Mizuho will continue to employ its nationwide network and accumulated data analysis capabilities across a wide range of sectors outside of finance, as it works with partners to address the issues facing the agricultural industry and make for a brighter, smarter future.


Text and photographs by Mizuho’s DX Editorial Team


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