Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Japanese and U.S. Agriculture

In writing yesterday’s post, I discovered, to my surprise, that Japan employs more people in its agricultural sector (2.3 million) than we do (2.2 million)! This then made me look up data on agricultural land in each country. Japan farms 11.5 million acres; we farm 922 million. Thus every Japanese farmer (on average, of course), tends 4.8 acres; every American farmer tends 418. Velly interesting! Further thought about this began to yield some reasons for this startling difference. The first thing that comes to mind is crop. Japanese agriculture is focused on rice—a kind of farming that does not lend itself to automation; our own enormous productivity is due to machines and chemicals applied to grains that grow on dry land. The second is that Japan is second to no one in the fierce protection it gives its agricultural sector.  So I thought I’d look into automation of rice production—and came up with a video (link). It shows the prototype of a robotic rice planting machine—the one that won Japan’s “The Robot Award 2008” Grand Prize. 2008? That’s just yesterday. And we learn that it still has problems. Commercial models are promised us within a decade. Why is automation beginning so late? Well, evidently the farming population in Japan is old, as in years, and the young are disinclined to follow their grandmas and grandpas into the paddy. So Japan is rolling up its sleeves…

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