Fujitsu launches 'agricultural cloud' to analyze data from field sensors

The new service will launch in October using remote field sensors to gather farm data across Japan

Fujitsu said Wednesday it will launch a new cloud-based platform to help modernize Japan's aging farms.

The company said its "Akisai" service will go live in October, combining data from a nationwide network of sensors and cameras in fields that keep track of factors including soil temperature, moisture, rainfall, and humidity. Farmers that use the service will also be able to input crop information through tablets and mobile phones, and will benefit from detailed data on factors such as their profitability per crop and expenses.

Fujitsu said the new service will also be marketed at larger companies such as wholesalers, food processors and restaurant chains to help them monitor the country's complex food supply.

Japan is culturally attached to its image as a farming nation and has long maintained tariffs to protect domestic farmers, but its infrastructure is inefficient compared to countries such as the U.S., with many small contract producers working independently. The resource-poor country is highly dependent on food imports, a situation that is gradually worsening as its farming population ages.

Fujitsu said over 60 percent of Japanese agricultural workers are over 65, and many use only basic calculations to make decisions such as what crops to grow.

The company's new service aims to aggregate current and historical data to keep track of crop yields and growth data, helping farmers make more informed choices. Larger companies that buy the produce will be able to keep track of specific crops in different locations, so they can adjust their purchasing as required.

Fujitsu said it aims to sign up 200,000 customers to the service by March 2016, generating ¥15 billion (US$190 million) in revenue, a small sum for the massive conglomerate. In the fiscal year that ended in March 2012, the company's total revenue came to ¥4.5 trillion.

Still, the company has made its server business and so-called "big data" software suites, aimed at processing huge sets of diverse information, a priority for its growth in the future.

The company said it spent three years researching Japanese farming methods and markets, using cloud computing to aid farmers and food companies, before rolling out the new platform.

The name "Akisai" combines Japanese characters for "autumn" and "colors". Fujitsu said it is meant to evoke the range of different-colored produce gathered during the autumn harvest.

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