Novice farmers get helping hand in agri-tech trial

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sanhei Hattori, wearing a smart glasses, checks the condition of tomatoes at a greenhouse in Chofu, Tokyo, on Nov. 16.

NTT East Corp. and the Tokyo metropolitan government have launched a trial project using 5G technology to support inexperienced farmers in the agricultural sector, which is suffering from a labor shortage.

Under the project, experts are offering guidance remotely by utilizing the high-speed, high-capacity 5G communication standard.

To publicize the trial, tomatoes harvested by the farmers were served in school lunches and pupils seemed to enjoy feasting on locally grown produce.

About 350 tomato plants are being grown in a 500-square-meter greenhouse on the site of an NTT East facility in Chofu, Tokyo.

Last month, Sanhei Hattori, 73, was checking on the tomatoes while wearing a pair of smart glasses.

Footage captured by Hattori’s glasses was being relayed to a facility in Tachikawa, about 20 kilometers away.

Courtesy of Tokyo Development Foundation for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries
Images relayed from a greenhouse in Chofu are checked by an expert at a facility in Tachikawa, Tokyo.

The facility is operated by the Tokyo Development Foundation for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, an organization under the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Cultivation experts at the facility give Hattori advice regarding such things as harvest times, pruning and plant abnormalities.

The project utilizes a so-called local 5G network, which is more stable and more secure than the conventional 5G that is deployed nationwide. The system also makes it possible to relay live footage, even when broadcasting from multiple cameras.

NTT East launched the project in June this year.

The greenhouse is equipped with an antenna for the local 5G network, six 360-degree cameras mounted on the ceiling and a camera that can move around the facility, remote-controlled by the foundation.

Hattori’s farming experience was limited to growing vegetables at home.

But through the project, he has been able to cultivate tomatoes at the greenhouse, using smart glasses to get advice from experts about such things as plant diseases.

“A situation that might be difficult to convey with words can be conveyed with images,” Hattori said. “It’s reassuring to know that I can receive professional guidance at any time.”

Tomatoes harvested under the project were sold at supermarkets and about 200 tomatoes were supplied to Wakaba Elementary School in Chofu, where students got to enjoy the fresh fruit at lunch and learn about the project.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Pupils eat lunch at Wakaba Elementary School in Chofu on Nov. 16.

“It was sweet and sour and delicious!” said Takuma Kaji, a 12-year-old student. “I’m amazed that cutting-edge technology is being used to produce food.”

A Tokyo metropolitan government official said: “The experts can support several farms a day as they don’t have to visit cultivation sites every time a farmer needs help. We can actively support new farmers and also help existing farmers who want to try new crops.”

An NTT East official said, “We want to examine the cost and other issues in order to commercialize the technology.”