September 13, 2021

XAG R150 UGVXAG has announced that its autonomous farm robots are assisting farmers in Japan as they struggle to maintain high quality fruit production amidst a labor shortage. Since the company announced its R150 unmanned ground vehicle into the Japanese market in June, the all-electric mobile robot has been trialed for crop spraying across several orchard types, including apple, grapes, watermelon, and citrus fruits.

According to the Agricultural Export Expansion Strategy, the Japanese government has established the 2025 export target for 27 products, among which fresh fruits including citrus, strawberries, apples, peaches, and grapes are projected to have significant growth potential. As the strategy calls for modernizing farm machinery to enhance production and productivity, robots are regarded as a good prospect to help meet the targets, XAG said.

In Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, one of the four main production areas of the premium grape variety called Shine Muscat, farmers have tested the performance of the XAG R150 farm robot to help take care of their vineyards. The mobile autonomous robot can spray bottom-up for grape vines that climb on overhead trellis. The large, seedless Shine Muscat grapes have gained momentum and are widely exported to other countries since 2007. While Japan devotes 1,200 hectares to cultivate these green premium grapes, the growing shortage of labor in rural areas presents challenges to meet the export demand.

Farmers can use a mobile app to have the R150 precisely spray on the crop to ward off insects or diseases. XAG said this not only mitigates the impact of a rural aging and decreased agricultural workforce, but also reduces adverse health impacts on farm workers who bend over with repetitive motions. “It’s like a new type of cure to my back pain, I suppose,” said a vineyard farmer who watched a demo of the R150.

In Obanazawa, another city of Yamagata Prefecture, the XAG R150 was also flexibly adapted to a watermelon farm, and used to water the melon crops in a field demonstration. The burden of manual spraying and irrigation on slopes have urged Japanese farmers to seek a new approach, the company said.

Why this matters

Agriculture robots and automation are sorely needed in particular regions, especially as new production methods are needed to support feeding a world of 9 billion people by 2050. In addition, the aging population in Japan requires more robotic solutions for a declining labor workforce.

With strong trafficability on tough terrain, the R150 can drive between ridges of watermelon fields, XAG said. As this self-driving robot moves forward, water is spread precisely through high-speed airflow from the embarked JetSprayer system, attached on every leaf surface that needs to be cared for. 

Japan has a mountainous topography with 60% of forest coverage. Because of the scarcity of arable farmland in Japan, the agricultural industry has shifted to a quality-based production strategy rather than a quantity-based model to grow better with less.

In Obanazawa, care is taken from seeding, spraying, and fertilizing to nurture a perfect fruit, making watermelon cultivation a labor-intensive operation with a dearth of intelligent technologies. XAG said it is getting harder to hire sufficient workers to manage the melon fields year by year, with labor shortages a long-term trouble to Japanese farming.

The company said the XAG R150 can follow a pre-set route on a farm to help fruit growers effectively spray crops and water the field, which reduces the use of pesticides and saves water. Watermelons need precision irrigation during their life cycle, and traditionally drip tapes are deployed in the field to secure water supply. However, most melon fields have bumpy terrains and long ridges, making it difficult and time-consuming for farmers to apply and retrieve those tapes regularly.

Japan aims to raise agricultural exports to 2 trillion yen in 2025, followed by 5 trillion yen in 2030. Since the Japanese government is actively supporting smart farming technologies through new laws and regulations, fruit growers in Japan can now expect a scale-up of lightweight farm robots to truly help them grow high-quality fruits with less input, XAG said.

For more details on the XAG R150, visit their website here.