The Group-of-Seven agriculture ministers meet in Japan's northern prefecture of Niigata this weekend for the first time in seven years to discuss how to meet increasing food demand as aging farmers retire without successors. With the average age of Japanese farmers now 67, Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama will outline his idea of replacing retiring growers with Japanese-developed autonomous tractors and backpack-carried robots.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned that left unchecked, aging farmers could threaten the ability to produce the food the world needs. The average age of growers in developed countries is now about 60, according to the United Nations. Japan plans to spend 4 billion yen ($36 million) in the year through March to promote farm automation and help develop 20 different types of robots, including one that separates over-ripe peaches when harvesting.
"There are no other options for farmers but to rely on technologies developed by companies if they want to raise productivity while they are graying," said Makiko Tsugata, senior analyst at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo. "The government should help them adopt new technologies."