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Drone use in agriculture increasing in Japan

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — the number of drones used in agriculture is increasing in the country, with some farmers starting to utilize the aerial vehicles for visual inspections of crops and other new purposes.

Drones “are effective in promoting data-based agriculture and reducing agricultural work” at a time when many aged farmers are struggling to find successors, says an official at the agriculture ministry’s Technology Policy Office.

In Japan, it is necessary to register unmanned helicopters to spray pesticides, fertilizers and seeds with a special organization.

Registration became necessary for agricultural drones in 2015. The number of registered drones reached 673 last month, about three times the level of March 2017.

Agriculture drones that spray pesticide have an 8-liter to 10-liter tank. One hectare of rice paddies requires about 10 liters of pesticide.

It usually takes hours for a farmer to finish spraying that amount on a one-hectare area, while a drone can complete the same task in about 10 minutes.

Unlike conventional unmanned agricultural helicopters, drones can make very sharp turns. The new breed does not generate strong winds, which may damage leafy vegetables.

Agricultural drones are priced at about ¥2 million, far more affordable than conventional unmanned helicopters.

Video cameras mounted on drones can be used to check how crops have grown. Computer analysis of captured images can tell farmers where crop growth is slow and provide other valuable information.

Based on such analysis, farmers can change the amounts of fertilizers and make other adjustments in order to improve the quality of crops and shore up yields.

Researchers are trying to establish a method to use drones effectively so as to reduce damage on farms from birds and animals.

In their research, drones are flown at night when deer and boars are active. The aerial vehicles capture images on the ground with special cameras, and researchers use the data to consider how to catch such animals.

Another new use is having drones examine damage to irrigation channels and other agricultural facilities from natural disasters including typhoons.
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