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Satellite-monitored rice plant cultivation tests begin in north Japan

This satellite image shows rice plant growth information 30 days before ear emergence. (Image courtesy of the Yamagata Prefectural Government)

TSURUOKA, Yamagata -- A trial project to monitor premium rice plant growth in north Japan's Shonai Plain, known as a major rice producing area in the country, via satellite has begun to both ease the burdens on aging farmers as the number of people working in agriculture falls and to further improve rice quality.

    Tests will go ahead on rice paddies at 15 locations over three years, and satellite monitoring is planned for full-scale introduction by as early as fiscal 2024.

    Remote sensing technology, used by satellites to observe the Earth's surface, will be employed to monitor the growth of Yamagata Prefecture's Tsuyahime premium rice plants. Compared to ground surveys in which each rice paddy is physically checked by people, the satellite can photograph the entire 4,661-hectare Shonai Plain, which makes up 47% of all Tsuyahime rice paddies in 2021 -- expected to total 9,824 hectares.

    By color-coding the images using analysis technology developed by the Yamagata Prefectural Government, information on rice plants' precise growth at each paddy can be visualized. The images are then made accessible to prefectural government employees and agricultural cooperative producers via computers and tablets.

    In the project's initial stages, information provided will pertain to fertilizer amounts, but the prefectural government also intends to apply the technology to estimating data including on protein content, which affects the taste of rice, and yield based on an image taken 30 days before ears emerge.

    Kazunori Sato, director at agricultural technique promotion division at the Yamagata Prefectural Government's Shonai General Branch Office, said, "While we are aiming to expand our production area, we would like to support producers with growth management using new technology, and lead to the rice gaining a reputation as Japan's best brand."

    (Japanese original by Rika Chonan, Tsuruoka Local Bureau)

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