Japan may be in hot pursuit of robotics, but on the farm it’s still all about human hands

Source: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/12/25/business/japan-may-hot-pursuit-robotics-farm-still-human-hands/#.XCMQh1UzZEY

Summary:

  1. “If it’s less costly to hire foreigners than to buy machinery, necessary investment won’t be done.” The number of Japanese farmers shrank 56 percent to 1.82 million last year from 1995, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
  2. The smart-agriculture market in Japan is forecast to grow 14 percent on year to ¥14.7 billion this fiscal year, and will almost double in the next five years to ¥33.5 billion, according to the Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.
  3. “With the wage gap between Japan and other Asian nations narrowing, and as agricultural workers are the least paid among blue-collar workers in Japan, labor shortages in agriculture will probably continue,” he said.
  4. “I’m concerned that hiring low-skilled workers from overseas as a solution to labor shortages at home may undermine Japan’s efforts for efficiency through innovation in the long term,” said Hisakazu Kato, an economics professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.
  5. It’s that kind of economics that makes agriculture the industry forecast to hire the most foreigners under the new rules, accepting as many as 7,300 people in the year starting in April.
  6. The country that brought robots to car factories looks set to stay resolutely old-school in agriculture as it seeks to attract more foreign workers to replenish an aging workforce.
  7. He welcomes the law changes and has already taken advantage of an earlier program to allow foreign workers as interns to hire five Vietnamese laborers.
  8. Convenience-store operator Seven-Eleven Japan will open its first automated lettuce farm next year, which cost ¥6 billion to build.
  9. Kakuzaki began with one intern 10 years ago as fieldwork was too tough for him to continue, and as he was unable to find Japanese people who were willing to work for the government-set minimum wage.
  10. Still, foreign workers aren’t a long-term solution, said Kazuki Ishida, an economist at Norinchukin Research Institute in Tokyo.
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