Japan's biggest agricultural machinery builder and top agrochemical producer aim to make the practice of direct seeding cheaper and easier, with a target date of 2020.
Direct seeding involves planting seed rice directly into fields, rather than transplanting seedlings previously sprouted elsewhere into standing water. Raising and transplanting the seedlings under the conventional approach can take one-third or more of the year's working hours -- work rendered obsolete with direct seeding. But with many growers uneasy about altering long-standing practices, for example, the method has been slow to spread.
Osaka-based Kubota is developing technology to coat seed rice using iron powder, as well as specialized equipment for direct seeding. Planting the seeds at a certain depth can help ensure more stable harvests. Sumitomo Chemical will contribute seeds engineered to grow shorter plants that are harder to knock down, as well as agrochemicals. Rice yields per 1,000 sq. meters should increase by about 30%.
A 60kg haul of rice is said to cost most farmers more than 9,000 yen ($US 78) to grow, excluding land costs. The improved yield from the special seeds and reduced labor costs from direct seeding are seen bringing production costs down 20-30% altogether. Kubota and Sumitomo Chemical began cultivating the crop with their new techniques on an experimental basis this year and aim to have proven results by 2020, then to market equipment and other products to growers including large-scale farmers.
Even as Japan's rice consumption falls, a long-running government program of reducing rice production is set to end next year. In 2013, the government adopted a goal of cutting production costs for the crop by 40% over a decade.
Some estimates show the number of farmworkers in Japan falling by 16-22% over the 15 years through 2025. In order to secure long-term demand for themselves, agricultural equipment and chemical makers also need to support farmers' operating health and help make them more competitive.
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