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Newsletter:Co-Creating the Future of Japanese Agriculture with Growers--Developing the Auto-Guided Orchard Support Vehicle to Reduce Labor with Technology--

December 26, 2022

In Japan, the declining number of farmers as well as the aging of the farming population have grown into serious social issues drawing national attention, and present a pressing need to automate various tasks performed by growers.
Yamaha Motor has long been a player in the modernization of agriculture from the air with the development and subsequent spread of our industrial-use unmanned helicopters. Today, we are on the ground working to develop our Auto-Guided Orchard Support Vehicle in order to reduce the labor accompanying various tasks around farms and orchards.

■A Farming Population Nearly 70 Years Old on Average

The mid-development Auto-Guided Orchard Support Vehicle with its creator at a Yamaha Motor test site simulating modern labor-saving orchards

Agri Week Tokyo 2022 was held earlier this year in October and is the largest trade show in Japan for agricultural and livestock products and technologies. Yamaha Motor was there as an exhibitor, displaying our industrial-use unmanned helicopters, agricultural drones, and the Auto-Guided Orchard Support Vehicle pictured above.
 "Beginning the long-awaited harvest is a joyful moment for any crop grower," says its creator, HONDA, Shirou. "I want Yamaha Motor technologies to be right there for that moment, helping the results of growers' hard work shine that much more." Honda's goal is to develop automation solutions that are not only easy to deploy but also easy for seniors--which comprise the majority of farmers in Japan--to make use of. "As Japan is facing serious challenges from a shrinking and aging workforce, it's also important that we paint a picture of the future of agriculture as one with cutting-edge technologies, like robot arms," he continues. "On the other hand, we also can't just move on without dealing with the issues we have in front of us right now."
 The average age of Japanese farmers today is about 68, with around half of them already in their 70s. "We're already short on time," admits Honda. "If we imagine what the agriculture industry will look like a decade from now without drastic change, it becomes clear that we urgently need to raise the volume a single grower can harvest. As a company developing both robots and mobility products, I believe Yamaha Motor's knowledge and technologies can make real contributions here."

■The Potential to Reduce Annual Work Hours by at least 30%

The rear cargo bed can be lifted and works like a stepladder for working on crops higher up.

"The concept for the vehicle we're developing is to be a 'moving stepladder,'" explains Honda. "Instead of being 'rushed' by the vehicle to hurry and set up a ladder, we envisioned a workbench and harvest crate platform that would move forward slowly in gradual distances at the pace of the farmers harvesting. Labor-saving orchards with optimal tree shapes have also gained attention in recent years and we are developing vehicles that will be immediately ready for use in pruning, pollination, fruit thinning, harvesting, and other tasks at such orchards."
 These labor-saving orchards employ methods to alter the shapes fruit trees grow into so as to form densely planted rows that still produce evenly sized crops. As this results in orchards well suited to automation without reducing crop yield or quality, studies into this method and its propagation are being actively pushed by research institutes and the like.
 "Many orchards are on sloped or uneven ground and irregularities like the width between trees make it difficult for potentially labor-saving machines to make a difference," says Honda. "This necessitates a lot of heavy labor, working by hand or transporting things. To properly address the issues, the agricultural setting and automation technologies need to work together."
 Studies conducted at agricultural test sites have shown that a combination of labor-saving tree growth and automated vehicles can reduce annual work hours by 30% or more. In addition, many growers at the Agri Week trade show that visited the Yamaha Motor booth and saw the vehicle commented that they were hoping for something like it, assuring Honda that the "moving stepladder" he is developing is on the right track.

Auto-Guided Orchard Support Vehicle
*Video in Japanese only.

Message from the Editor
Honda actually has an aeronautical engineering background, and ever since he joined Yamaha Motor, he has long been involved in the development of our industrial-use unmanned helicopters. Desiring to contribute to people and society through technology, he says being able to feel firsthand that he has made a difference is what motivates him at work, and he certainly has done that by helping modernize agriculture from the air.

While his development field has now moved from the air to the ground, his drive to make a difference has only grown stronger, and the core issues that have emerged through his work in the field present his current challenge.

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