As with other sectors of the economy, today's wave of innovation is rolling into agriculture. Farm management and production processes have always been something difficult to quantify in numbers. Although now through visualization highly efficient farm management practices have become a reality, allowing stabilized output and quality to be delivered. Fujitsu's ICT is transforming the farming industry through new initiatives developed by Aeon Agri Create.
Information Communications Technology (ICT) supports gap in farming experience
Established as an Aeon Group company in 2009, Aeon Agri Create currently operates 15 farms across Japan. The company was started by people with little experience in farming but with a burning ambition to change Japanese agriculture through modernization.
According to Mr. Yasuaki Fukunaga, President of Aeon Agri Create, when the company was first launched, it experienced a series of tough challenges. While staff members had established a basic level of knowledge about agriculture by studying, they did not have any actual experience in the field. As a result they were faced with problem after problem, including how to manage the impact from blight and insects. An industry like agriculture requires intuition and experience; however one way to support and compensate for lack of experience is to use ICT. President Fukunaga explains the reason for using ICT as follows.
"We had no experience or knowledge to help us. However, as a business, we had to steepen the learning curve, to learn what farmers usually spend decades finding out. At our most difficult time, the turning point came with our decision to use Fujitsu's ICT to visualize and share management and production practices." (Mr. Yasuaki Fukunaga, President)
Visualizing farming practices to support crop production and quality management
Applying ICT to farming started with visualizing various tasks at the agricultural production sites. Sensors are installed in the field at the Ushiku farm in Ibaragi Prefecture. The collected data is then sent to the Fujitsu's Akisai Food and Agriculture Cloud. The company's other farms manage crop yields and daily tasks, such as the spraying of pesticide. Information is handled in the form of document data, for example weekly reports. Via smartphones or other mobile devices, workers and team leaders at each farm upload any information they notice firsthand to Akisai Cloud for sharing and accumulating new knowledge. This information includes things like insights, successes and failures that have been noticed. The data sent to the cloud is shared in real time and can be viewed instantly by 15 farms across the country, as well as at Aeon Head Office.
By sharing and using such knowledge, the team leaders in the field are now able to make the appropriate decisions regardless of their level of experience. This system allows for long-term knowledge-sharing. Furthermore, sharing information on crop diseases or weather damage at one farm helps other farms in different regions to plan ahead quickly.
ICT also plays a part in food safety, a hot topic in recent years. Aeon Agri Create implements strict quality control according to the GLOBALG.A.P. standards for good agricultural practice adopted in Europe and other regions. Especially for the use of agricultural chemicals, the company maintains a stringent check system to control its spraying schedule using accumulated data. This means that the schedule does not deviate from the standards, even by a day.
Advanced farm management supported by Akisai
Akisai is a cloud computing platform which supports analysis-based data collection as well as data utilization. It enables knowledge-sharing and link-ups with various tools, supporting big data visualization. Aeon Agri Create uses the production data collected using mobile devices and sensors for analyzing operations and decision-making across a wide spectrum.
For example, detailed data on the fertilizers being used (e.g. type and quantity) are entered in the system to visualize costs. Together with labor and pesticide costs, the data allows Aeon Agri Create to keep track of the production costs of each crop, which is often a difficult task for most farmers. As President Fukunaga says, "You can't run a business without knowing the cost of what you are producing." Production process control and cost management are very important to the future of farming.
Agriculture means working with nature. So, it has always been difficult to quantify things like harvest estimates and production planning. However, detailed analysis of crop growth and yield data is now a reality. Along with big data visualization for farm management, this means that accurate crop production planning and advanced decision-making is possible.
An agricultural value chain linking producers and consumers
The effect of ICT innovation is spreading beyond farms. This system allows Aeon Agri Create to effectively develop a production plan in line with its produce delivery and supply schedules for all Aeon stores. This leads to more efficient management of the entire Aeon Group.
This kind of innovation helps Aeon Group to establish a value chain that connects production, procurement, distribution, processing, wholesale, retail, and consumers, and to get a bird's-eye view of the entire Group's business. Gathering data form the 15 farms across the country allows Head Office to achieve efficient crop production and flexible distribution. Moreover, the entire Aeon Group can advance through better management and decision-making, such as the reduction of opportunity loss and waste.
Driving Innovation in Japanese agriculture with ICT
Aeon Agri Create's innovations in efficient farm management go beyond Aeon Group, they are creating relationships with companies in different industries and lines of business. As the use of data accumulated by the cloud grows, collaboration and business development with e-commerce service companies, IT service providers, application vendors, and various other industries will emerge. In other words, we can expect a new ecosystem to form. For example, these initiatives include programs and services to help farms set up as companies, working with local governments on projects to develop and energize industries, and creating distribution and sales methods that will bring producers and consumers closer.
These partnerships across industries will also re-energize Japan's agricultural sector. The more efficient farm management methods can be developed using ICT, the more people will be encouraged to pursue farming as a career. This could also resolve problems in the farming sector, like difficulty in handing farms on to the next generation, and unused farmlands growing wild.
This initiative by Aeon Agri Create is set to drive innovation in Japanese agriculture by building a new value chain. This new value chain is inclusive of local governments, farmers, ICT companies, and various other companies in the service and consumer business industries. Through ICT, Fujitsu is contributing to these business initiatives, to help build a better society for the future together.