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BASF's AI Farming Tool Uncovers Fertile Ground in Japan's Rice Country

BASF, a German chemical company, has gained a foothold in Japan's rice country with a tool that uses AI to help skilled farmers compensate for labour shortages. Yamazaki Rice, based in Saitama prefecture near Tokyo, began using BASF's Xarvio Field Manager system this year with five employees on approximately 100 hectares of land.

Shivam Dwivedi
Japan's 2050 road map aims to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers by 30%
Japan's 2050 road map aims to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers by 30%

Xarvio provides real-time analysis based on satellite and weather information. The amount of fertilizer recommended for each farm section is customized using automated maps. The information is fed into GPS-enabled farm equipment.

According to Yamazaki Rice's president, the AI makes daily recommendations, which have helped improve yields by up to 25% in some fields. Xarvio's machine learning covers over ten years of worldwide crop data and scientific papers. "We can see crop growth in each rice paddy in minute detail on smartphones and other devices," said rice grower Yoshio Yamazaki. "We could apply the best amount of fertilizer at the best time, thanks to the AI advice."

In April 2021, BASF began offering Xarvio through the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, Japan's leading farm co-op group better known as Zen-Noh. According to BASF, the AI provided alerts with over 97% accuracy in field tests watching for rice blight in about 100 locations across Japan. According to BASF, Xarvio accurately predicted the presence and timing of the fungal disease 80% of the time, allowing farmers to contain the damage quickly.

Xarvio has been adopted in 33,000 hectares, accounting for nearly 0.8% of Japan's total farmland, primarily for rice paddies. Service fees range from free for up to two farmland plots to 1,100 yen ($8) per month for up to 100 plots. Rice farmers in Hakari, southwestern Japan, use BASF's smart farming tool. (Image courtesy of BASF) BASF will introduce a feature that predicts weed growth in rice paddies next spring to reduce herbicide overuse.

BASF has launched Xarvio in approximately 20 countries, most of which are Western nations. According to Livio Tedeschi, president of agricultural solutions at the German company, Japan's agricultural products are high quality, and the country has a large market.

Other Japanese companies are attempting to assist farmers in doing more with fewer hands. Iseki, a farm machine manufacturer, is working on a robot to control weed growth in rice paddies. Last year, the government outlined plans to increase farm productivity. Japan's 2050 road map aims to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers by 30% and herbicides and similar agricultural chemicals by 50%. The transition to smart farming comes as the average age of Japanese farmers approaches 68.

The country's 1.36 million farmworkers in three decades are expected to fall by more than half. Japan only supplies 38% of its food. "At this rate, Japan's farming industry will deteriorate," said Yasufumi Miwa, an agricultural policy expert at the Japan Research Institute. According to Miwa, digital technology is essential not only for efficiency but also to supplement the expertise of veteran farmers.

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