Fri, Jan 06, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Japan plans ‘Dream Project’ farm where robots do the work

AFP, TOKYO

Japan is planning a futuristic farm where robots do the lifting in an experimental project on land swamped by the March tsunami, the government said yesterday.

Under an agriculture ministry plan, unmanned tractors would work fields where pesticides would have been replaced by LEDs keeping rice, wheat, soybeans, fruit and vegetables safe until robots can put them in boxes.

Carbon dioxide produced by machinery working on the up to 250 hectare site would be channeled back to crops to boost their growth and reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers, the Nikkei newspaper said.

The agricultural ministry will begin on-site research later this year with a plan to spend around ¥4 billion (US$52 million) over the next six years, a ministry official said.

Land in Miyagi Prefecture, about 300km north of Tokyo, which was flooded by seawater on March 11, has been earmarked for the so-called “Dream Project.”

The tsunami, sparked by a magnitude 9 earthquake, inundated the country’s northeast, killing more than 19,000 people, according to the latest figures.

It also badly polluted the land, leaving it laden with salt and depositing oil on fields, with about 24,000 hectares of once-fertile farmland damaged by the tsunami, earthquake and fallout from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Meltdowns at reactors at the plant sent radiation into the air, the sea and food chain.

The atomic disaster and the ravaging of farmland were the latest blows to a struggling and ageing farm industry that is also facing the threat of renewed competition from abroad as Tokyo eyes a Pacific-wide free-trade pact.

High-tech companies such as Panasonic are to be invited to get involved in the project in a bid to give a much-needed boost to the beleaguered sector, the ministry spokesman said.

Among other companies expected to join the project are Fujitsu, Hitachi, Sharp, NEC, Yanmar, Ajinomoto and Ito-Yokado Co, according to the Nikkei.

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