A tractor harvesting
AGRICULTURE

Farmers harvest the rewards of big data

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Using machinery linked to GPS and data collection tools developed on Lenovo laptops and workstations, farmers in Japan are doing more with less, paving the way toward a sustainable future of agriculture.

In a single decade, from 2010 to 2019, the number of farmers in Japan dropped by nearly a million, leaving the country at a crossroads. Meanwhile, there are global challenges looming on the horizon: shrinking amounts of arable land, a growing global population, and of course, the ever-present specter of climate change.

How to do more with less? Yanmar, a Japanese engine manufacturing company, is drawing on its roots in sustainability, using technology to power productivity gains and stay ahead of tomorrow’s problems. Increased productivity and shorter repair time for machines mean a smaller environmental footprint for large-scale agriculture. Devices that use GPS to collect live data from equipment in tandem with Yanmar’s SmartAssist technology are making all these gains possible. Companies and farmers can easily see when, where, and how much work was completed using a host of machines, tracking output from moment to moment.  

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The technology was developed using Lenovo ThinkPad laptops and ThinkStation workstations. It has now been embedded in equipment ranging from harvesters to tractors to planting machines, all communicating via the Internet of Things. A machine linked to SmartAssist can record some of the most granular data – literally. It can measure how many grains a given machine has harvested; a farmer can easily pull up real-time operating logs, maintenance requirements, and even alerts that a device may have been stolen. 

Imagine a tiller that knows exactly how much earth it has churned in a day, or a tractor that knows when an obstacle is in its path. The technology is designed with accessibility and ease of use in mind. This is a critical feature given that the majority of Japan’s farmers – a population that is both ageing and shrinking, with an average age climbing into the high 60s –  were not raised with internet-linked technology. Automation on some models of farming equipment makes the technology even more usable for farmers from a range of backgrounds and comfort levels, according to Shigemi Hidaka, Executive Engineering Officer, Yanmar. The range of data available, including the history of how machines were used and the conditions under which they’ve operated, will also make it faster for them to be repaired, providing yet another benefit for the farmers who use them.  

 

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The insights don’t stop with the machinery itself. Yanmar’s remote sensors embedded in the soil register and record shifting weather conditions and moisture levels – information that’s likely to become more and more valuable as weather patterns and their downstream effects grow more unpredictable. Irrigation timing can be optimized and water waste minimized. And for processing these vast amounts of data, there’s no better partner than Lenovo. 

“The data processing capabilities [of Lenovo products] are high,” praised Takao Yajima, Director, Yanmar board.

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Both Yanmar and Lenovo have a history of looking to the future.

Both Yanmar and Lenovo have a history of looking to the future. Founded in 1912 by Magokichi Yamaoka, Yanmar was built on Yamaoka’s desire to improve his own family’s farming practice, a dream realized with his development of the first practical small diesel engine. Yet sustainability, too, was on his mind, long before resource conservation was widely recognized as a global imperative. 

 

“To conserve fuel is to serve mankind” was among Yamaoka’s favorite sayings, reflecting a forward-looking ethos of sustainability that remains with the company to this day. 

“Thinking it's okay to consume large amounts of our planet’s natural resources is a thing of the past,” said Takehito Yamaoka, Yanmar President. “With economic growth, there comes the issue of environmental pollution and a world with food that is saturated with chemicals. With limited natural resources, how do we go about using technology to achieve sustainable prosperity?” 

It’s a question that Lenovo and Yanmar are working together to answer, so that tomorrow’s farmers can reap a full bounty in a changing world.