The modern scarecrow works on an iPad

Farmers in Asia can now flip out their iPads to see how their crops are faring. They can know exactly how many more days a crop needs until harvest. Like some people checking to see how many “likes” they get on Facebook, farmers can take the pulse of their fields.

That is the gist of a new agricultural product released Oct. 14 by Japanese mobile carrier Softbank Group and electronics maker Hitachi. Their $6,270 system, the e-kakashi, consists of a base unit and several terminals. The terminals gather information — such as temperature, humidity, surface moisture, insolation, carbon dioxide — from all over a farm. They then send it to the base terminal, which transmits the data to cloud servers.

The companies plan to sell the system in Japan and, in the future, across Asia, where countries share similar rice-growing cultures.

“We believe a made-in-Japan agri-product will be well-received,” said Norio Yamaguchi, project leader at PS Solutions, a Softbank subsidiary.

The companies say the device will help farmers increase their competitiveness and effectiveness in the age of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a wide-ranging agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that, among other matters, seeks to reduce trade barriers. Agriculture will be affected.

Kakashi means scarecrow in Japanese, but this electronic scarecrow does much more than shoo away birds. In the future, SoftBank and Hitachi intend to add devices that measure soil pH levels as well as electrical conductivity so that farmers know when fertilization is lacking.

The acquired data will be stored and used for analysis. For rice, strawberries, tomatoes and citrus, e-kakashi offers crop-raising “recipes.” Based on past data, the system advises farmers on when to plant seeds, how much fertilizer and water to apply, and when to harvest. It does so via smartphones, tablets and wearable devices.

“The biggest challenge to Japanese agriculture is the lack of heirs willing to work in the fields,” Yamaguchi said. “A third of farmers today are over 65 years old.” By bringing smartphones and other gadgets to the farm, the hope is to make agriculture hip and easy. In addition, by keeping data in the cloud and offering an easy how-to manual, centuries of experience can be passed down to just about anyone.

Softbank aims to sell 500 e-kakashi sets in the first year, mainly to municipal governments or agricultural organizations that want to encourage young people to take up farming.

Toma Yamazoe is the mayor of the town of Yosano, Kyoto Prefecture, where Softbank and Hitachi have been testing ther systems for several years now. “It is likely that future generations of farmers will have multiple jobs,” Yamazoe said. “If they can check the fields through their iPads while they work in offices, it will be much easier to carry out both jobs.”

“Smart agriculture” solutions are being tested all over the world. There are satellites that enable agricultural machines to communicate with one another other as well as IT that controls the light and water applied inside a greenhouse.

As Asian countries try to feed their their exploding populations with less water and in the face of soil degradation, effective and sustainable agricultural methods are becoming increasingly important.

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