Saibai Navi, which launched in December 2016, is a service useful to all farmers, whereas Saibai Navi Doctor caters to producers with an even clearer goal, to reduce agrochemicals, chemical fertilizers, and embark on organic farming. This is because Panasonic has high expectations for the potential growth of organic farming.
You could say that organic farmers in Japan are "super" minorities. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), arable land used for organic farming was 23,000 hectares as of 2017, a mere "0.5%" of total arable land in Japan.
Ms. Arai noted, "The global organic food market has grown by 5.3 times in 15 years, but at the moment, the market share of organic foods in Japan is significantly lower in comparison to other developed countries." At the moment, the domestic organic food market, including organic crops is only 185 billion yen, but if per capita consumption of organic foods increases to levels in Europe and the U.S., this market could expand more than tenfold to 2 trillion yen. Furthermore, regulations on agrochemicals are tightening in some parts of Europe, so there are producers in Japan who want to reduce the use of agrochemicals and chemical fertilizers and go organic. There is hope that if the number of farmers considering this shift is included, the population of organic farmers would increase considerably. Furthermore, MAFF has also announced its support of organic farming by publishing "Basic Principles for Promoting Organic Farming" in April 2014.
In addition, she mentioned that personally, "This may sound redundant, but internally we talk about wanting to bring to life 'sustainable, circular farming.'"
In Nakano City, Nagano Prefecture, there is a group of producers who are utilizing "Saibai Navi" and "Saibai Navi Doctor" and producing excellent results. They call themselves the Corps for the Advancement of Nagano Agriculture. Eight grape farmers from the area have come together to share and sharpen their techniques using Saibai Navi and Saibai Navi Doctor.
Hideyuki Dezawa and Nobuyuki Kikuchi play a central role in this group. Mr. Dezawa is well versed in IT, so he acts as the facilitator, and Mr. Kikuchi, who has worked fastidiously over the years growing grapes, is in charge of sharing techniques. We spoke to both Mr. Dezawa and Mr. Kikuchi at Mr. Kikuchi's farm where they had just grown the best grapes of their lives.
The group began working together to make techniques that each had acquired through trial and error "visible" and share such techniques. Mr. Dezawa looks back on when the group was first established, "Of course we had wanted to cooperate with one another, but we never really had the chance. Until now, we relied on our gut and experience, but we wanted to make all of that visible."
It has been two years since the group was formed. During this time, they made visible every aspect of various data, soil and crop conditions for cultivating shine muscat grapes, and using the quantitative data, they added fertilizers and other nutrients and the end result far surpassed past harvests. This is despite the fact that the weather this year was extremely unforgiving--the skies were overcast for extended periods of time, the rainy season was long, and once it ended, the days became scorching hot, sun too strong for growing grapes. Nevertheless, the group produced grapes of amazing quality this season. Mr. Dezawa and Mr. Kikuchi are certain that this is thanks to the information that has now become visible.
Although Mr. Kikuchi has produced grapes for quite some time, he, too, is amazed by this year's crop. "The grapes are nearly 20% larger than usual. This is fantastic. And we can see how the green branches from this year are turning brown. This is a sign that the branches have started to ripen and is an indication of how the grapes will turn out next year. Shine muscat grapes usually do not ripen until past mid-September, but this year, it began ripening already and its only September 1st. This is a significant achievement."
The two gentlemen are using Saibai Navi to continuously keep track of the soil and air temperatures, how much sunlight there is, and Saibai Navi Doctor, which just launched in May this year, to analyze soil and their crop to add fertilizers and create soil. It is not an exaggeration to say that their gut feeling and experience have truly become visible.
By making their techniques visible, the two gentlemen have been able to share their techniques with ease. When it comes to agricultural management, the bigger the scale, the more employees you need to hire. Not only will you need to know what to do when, everyone involved in cultivation will also need to share this understanding to certain extent. Saibai Navi lets producers keep a record of how crops were cultivated in the past, the yield and quality, and it can also serve as an excellent operation manual indicating what needs to be done.
Mr. Dezawa said, "I work on the farm with my parents and my older sister, but we will need to hire outside help one day. And when we get to that point, we will need to teach people how and why. If we have Saibai Navi then, it is easier to explain what to do in certain situations. I haven't been involved in farming for that long yet, so having access to the data recorded by Saibai Navi has been a great help."
Saibai Navi solutions make various aspects of cultivation visible. This will not only serve an important role in sharing techniques of master producers, but also in passing them on to the next generation. Mr. Kikuchi believes that "You need experience, and you need to make things visible. This will create a synergy effect. That is probably the best way forward."
When asked, "If everyone can apply the same techniques, how will you be able to differentiate?" Mr. Kikuchi answered, "I think, in the end, it would be wonderful if we all can grow. It's more important that we all learn to make the same thing than for one person to excel. Because we are using the same fertilizers and performing the same tasks, all of us taking part in this project will become one. And if any clarification is necessary, I can offer advice based on my experience. We're a team, and so we should grow together."
Learning from one another, the group will pass on excellent, proven techniques to the next generation. If Panasonic's solutions that make these techniques visible can help facilitate this, producers who have signed on will be able to cultivate high quality crops consistently. The efforts by the Corps for the Advancement of Nagano Agriculture and Panasonic also provide tips on how to revitalize agriculture and for it to survive. The future may be filled with spirited farmers practicing sustainable farming, who are capable of applying master-level techniques to produce superior quality crops and generate revenue.
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