Science, technology, and innovation are playing an increasingly vital role in sustainable and agile agricultural and food systems worldwide. Information and communication technology-based smart farming technologies have brought the ability to collect, utilize, and analyze enormous amounts of machine-readable data on farm practices and management, providing a roadmap for countries to scale up their digital agriculture (Schroeder, Lampietti, and Elabed 2021).
Japan is highly developed in smart-farming-related areas, such as drones and robotics, and has adopted a variety of cutting-edge digital technologies since 2019 (Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council 2022). To address the severe challenges of labor shortages, an aging society, and a lack of successors to undertake on agricultural work, the Japanese government has been compelled to promote agricultural policy reforms and increase investment for fostering the development of smart agriculture.
In 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) announced a strategy for the business expansion of smart farming technology and services. As part of the strategy, MAFF collaborates with private companies, universities, and research institutes to achieve ultra-labor-saving while maintaining the quality of agricultural production. It has launched 205 demonstration projects for smart agricultural technology and services as part of a large-scale pilot initiative to showcase and seek fresh possibilities (MAFF 2022b).
Meanwhile, farmers and non-farming entities have been establishing more agricultural corporations, coinciding with amendments to the Japanese Agricultural Land Law in 2019 (Clever, Iijima, and Petlock 2014; Nanseki 2021). The modified law encourages non-agricultural entities to engage in farming operations by relaxing the rules on farmland sales and leasing. The emergence of agricultural corporations has become the backbone of realizing large-scale production, heightening the strategic management of agribusiness and accelerating industrial clusters. The popularization of ICT and smart farming technology in corporations is anticipated to enable the technological optimization of production and management in agrifood systems, thereby boosting the development of a more resilient and sustainable agricultural sector.
Driving the adoption of smart farming technologies
A study by Nanseki (2021), based on a nationwide survey of the operations of Japanese agricultural corporations, examined the current development challenges and progress by corporations from multiple perspectives. From the perspective of the technology implementation progress, the project investigated a total of 21 classes of advanced farming technology used in agricultural production and business management, including data monitoring and collection technologies, robotization technologies and automatically operating machines, as well as business operation technologies.
Of the 505 valid responses, 85.5% of agricultural enterprises had adopted financial management systems, such as for farming management and accounting-related database development. Moreover, the second and third most frequently adopted techniques were advertisement promotion and management systems for sales information. In contrast, technologies with lower adoption rates included the “automation of crop cultivation machines/robots,” “automatic measurement of product harvest,” and “measurement of crop growth using drones and artificial satellites,” with adoption rates of 11.6%, 11.1%, and 9.0%, respectively.
The results further showed that the significant factors influencing corporations’ adoption of technology were the type of corporation, eligibility to own farmland, sales and profit targets, farm type, self-evaluation of ICT utilization and information management, and educational background (Mi et al. 2022). Notably, agricultural cooperatives tended to adopt fewer technologies than limited companies. Eligibility to own farmland was also a positive driver in technology adoption. From the perspective of the representatives’ profiles, those with educational backgrounds from specialized schools and vocational colleges were more likely to implement novel technologies in their corporations.
The government’s role in accelerating technology adoption
The Japanese government plays a crucial role in increasing technology implementation by corporations and accelerating production efficiency and using agricultural policy reforms to promote the construction of science and technology data-sharing platforms. Progressive legislative reforms can promote smart farming solutions, such as the use of drones and self-driving vehicles, chemical spraying reforms, and quick and comprehensive rollouts of necessary infrastructure, such as the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System or the WAGRI agricultural data collaboration platform (Temmen and Schilling 2021). For instance, government agencies have coordinated with research centers, non-profit organizations, and private enterprises to establish and maintain the WAGRI system to merge weather, agricultural land, map, production prediction, soil, and other statistical data to provide adequate data availability for farmers and to increase possibilities for technology adoption and business. In addition, in 2021, the Japanese government formulated guidelines for setting up a system for an open application programming interface (API) to facilitate farmers’ access to agricultural machinery data from different manufacturers (MAFF 2021).
To accelerate the digital transformation of agriculture and encourage agricultural corporate ventures, the Japanese government has also announced inclusive policies and created forums for mutual support. The government is granting farmers and corporations needs-based financial support to help them adopt agricultural machinery and technology (MAFF 2022). Examples include loans and subsidies for farmers who continuously use arable land, those who are located in unfavorable geographical areas, and small-scale entities, with a priority focus on the implementation of robots, ICT machinery, and machinery for intensive agriculture in hilly and mountainous areas, as well as machinery for environmentally friendly agriculture. At the same time, in order to facilitate financing, the government is also taking measures to support debt guarantees for financial institutions by increasing subsidies to the rural credit fund association. Furthermore, social cohesion and cooperation in Japan’s society are expediting knowledge and experience-sharing via platforms. Joint procurement tactics (often navigated by Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) are being used more frequently by many smaller-scale corporations to mitigate the impact of investment and adoption costs.
All in all, accelerating the digital transformation of agriculture is not only a national issue—the next direction for the development of smart farming is being sought worldwide (Washizu and Nakano 2022). Agriculture has its local specific culture and practices as well as geographic conditions, but the implementation experiences in the agribusiness system in Japan might showcase lessons for other developing regions seeking further technology dissemination.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council. 2022. FY2022 Smart Agriculture Demonstration Project [in Japanese].
Clever, J., M. Iijima, and B. Petlock. 2014. Agricultural Corporations Help Revitalize Japan’s Farm Sector. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Report.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). 2021. Summary of the Annual Report on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas in Japan.
MAFF. 2022a. Subsidy Support for Farmland Utilization Efficiency (FY2022) [in Japanese].
MAFF. 2022b. Promotion of Smart Agriculture.
Mi, J., T. Nanseki, Y. Chomei, Y. Uenishi, and L. T. Nguyen. 2022. Determinants of ICT and Smart Farming Technology Adoption by Agricultural Corporations in Japan. Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture, Kyushu University 67(2): 249–262.
Nanseki, T. 2021. Agricultural Corporations as Seen from Fact Data: Profile, Business Operation, Strategy and Innovation [in Japanese]. Tokyo: Agriculture and Forestry Statistics Press.
Schroeder, K., J. Lampietti, and G. Elabed. 2021. What’s Cooking: Digital Transformation of the Agrifood System. World Bank Publications.
Temmen, N., and J. Schilling. 2021. Smart Farming Technology in Japan and Opportunities for EU Companies. Brussels: EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation Report.
Washizu, A., and S. Nakano. 2022. Exploring the Characteristics of Smart Agricultural Development in Japan: Analysis Using a Smart Agricultural Kaizen Level Technology Map. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 198, 107001.