Nº 1 2013 > An e-agriculture application in Japan
Fujitsu tests ICT approach to boost vineyard and sweetcorn cultivation
With increasing demand for the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the agricultural industry in Japan and in other countries, Fujitsu has unveiled the results from a series of trials to collect data through sensor networks deployed in vineyards and on farmland. The data collected by the company on temperature and humidity can be used to choose optimum harvesting times for crops and to fight pests and disease. The trials were carried out by Fujitsu as part of Question 10‑3/2 on telecommunications and ICT for rural and remote areas. Question 10‑3/2 falls under the purview of Study Group 2 of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU–D).
Traditionally, wireless sensor networks have been used in greenhouses and plant factories to monitor lighting, temperature and humidity and to provide a controlled environment for the growth of vegetable and fruit. But Fujitsu’s approach is innovative in using sensors for outdoor farms. This is rare because farmers prefer to depend on know-how and knowledge handed down for generations.
Fujitsu believes that it can bring real benefits to farmers through the use of its sensor network. By putting sensors on farmland, the company says it is possible to decide on the optimum timing for planting and harvesting, and to employ counter measures against harmful insects and diseases. “We can not only reduce the workload but also improve the quality of agricultural products,” says Akira Muranishi, Vice President of Fujitsu’s Network Business Innovation Center.
Pilot project launched in vineyard
In Japan, companies like Fujitsu have been experimenting for some time with research and development projects using ICT with a view to making the agricultural industry more competitive. At the same time, in developing countries, ICT is being used as a tool to increase agricultural productivity, and to assist with marketing and logistics to support the commercial development of the agricultural industry.
Fujitsu launched its pilot project in June 2011 to collect and analyse field data for four months using sensors in vineyards near Koshu City, in Yamanashi Prefecture. “We installed three sets of sensor boxes with temperature sensors and a simple camera at two vineyards linked to an administration office on the farm,” explains Shinji Sawane, Manager of Fujitsu’s Network Business Innovation Center.
For winemakers, it is important to decide on the date of the grape harvest and to ascertain the sugar content and the pigment of the grape. In the past, temperature data to assist with this process were brought back by hand from temperature recorders at vineyards.
“This time, we collected the temperature data at the vineyard using a sensor box and a special low-power radio network,”says Masakazu Nakamura, President, Okunota Winery, explaining that the low frequency wireless network used to transmit data does not need a licence under Japanese regulations. “Using the system, we were able to decide on the best time for the grape harvest, ascertain the pigment of grapes, and forecast the occurrence of harmful insects and diseases without visiting the vineyards.”
Sweetcorn cultivation trial
Fujitsu’s second field trial, which began in March 2012, was for sweetcorn cultivation using a farm-information sensing network. Sensor boxes with temperature and humidity sensors and a simple camera were placed in the sweetcorn fields to collect temperature and humidity data on the interior of vinyl row covers and to also indicate, with the aid of cameras, whether the vinyl row covers were open or closed.
Regulating temperature and humidity by opening and closing row covers can be tricky, and data collected from the sensor network make it possible to visualize the relationship between the timing of air ventilation inside the row covers and temperature and humidity conditions.
The sensor boxes collecting the data are equipped with batteries and solar panels, obviating the need to change batteries and allowing for accurate surveys to be conducted efficiently, without human intervention. As with the vineyard system, the wireless network used to transmit the data uses a special low-power radio that allows for data to be collected with no communication charges.
The cost of each sensor is still too expensive to put sensors on every farm and it is too expensive to use the public network to connect the sensors in the fields to the administration centres. But using a low-cost network such as wireless local area network (LAN) may allow for the technology to be scaled up.
According to Mr Sawane, it should be possible for the local academic institutions or enterprises to integrate and maintain such network systems with government support. “Using a special low-power radio network or wireless LAN, we can develop sensor networks with existing technologies at a low cost. We need to investigate less expensive, less power consumptive technology, along with the use of energy harvesting technology.”
If the use of energy harvesting technology to produce electricity, for example through photovoltaic cells, can be harnessed to the sensor network system, the company believes that the approach can be applied beyond agriculture.
“We should investigate expanding its use or application to the other fields of infrastructure, such as environment protection, disaster management and crime prevention,” says Mr Muranishi.