Where once a lifetime of harvests and farming experience went into being a master farmer, a new system combining sensors and computer servers to develop hothouse techniques is offering a quicker, high-tech route.
The system, which goes on sale this month, was developed by NEC Corp., the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) and Nepon Inc., the largest manufacturer of heating equipment for agricultural use.
"While not everyone will be able to produce the best crops through just a recipe and the proper facilities, the system will undoubtedly raise the production level of the entire farming area," said Hideki Nakazawa, a Zen-Noh official in the production materials sector.
The objective of the system is to quantify the techniques of master farmers that are normally only developed after years of experience and instinct. Sensors placed in hothouses record various data that are sent to computer servers for analysis. The information is then used to recreate similar conditions for stable production of high quality crops.
NEC and Nepon developed sensors that can record temperature, humidity, the amount of sunlight and the concentration of carbon dioxide. If the sensors are installed in hothouses, data can be automatically sent to computer servers. That would allow farmers to learn about conditions in the hothouse through their computers or smartphones without setting foot in them.
All the collected data would be stored on a computer server. Farming instructors from Zen-Noh who have specialized knowledge as well as skilled farmers in various areas would play central roles in analyzing data over several years to determine what conditions led to bumper crops or higher quality produce.
Based on that analysis, recipes for each farming area would be drawn up that includes information such as the most appropriate temperature and carbon dioxide concentration as well as how much water and fertilizer to give and the timing for thinning leaves and culling buds. The recipes would be shared with farmers in a specific farming area.
There have been past experiments to have farmers in certain areas share know-how, but it was difficult to determine what factors were behind bountiful and poor harvests since the actual work of taking care of farms was left up to individual farmers who relied on their experience.
There are also hopes that the system can be further developed to deal with a lack of people to take over for aging farmers. Further development could allow for remote control or automation of the opening and closing of windows and curtains in the hothouses as well as for adjusting the heating of them.
Initial investment for sensors and other equipment will total about 300,000 yen ($3,800) per hothouse. An additional monthly fee of 3,000 yen will be charged for analysis of the data collected.
Zen-Noh will begin sales of the system from July through local agricultural cooperative associations.
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