Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Japanese make precision ag pitch

Noriko Yamagata unveils HitachiSoft's ag software

On Monday in Los Angles, the Japanese baseball team capped its run in the World Baseball Classic, edging South Korea in extra innings to win the championship. On Sunday, they had thumped the U.S. pros 9-4 in the semi-finals.

On Tuesday, another Japanese team, a group of engineers and marketers from Hitachi Software Engineering Co, Ltd. landed in the U.S. to begin a tour of American agriculture, in hopes of making their own mark on American soil.

Their stop at our office in Des Moines was the first on a tour in which they hope to learn more about American agriculture and possibly develop U.S. partners for development of their products.

HitachiSoft owns 90% of the precision ag software market in Japan, according to Marc Vanacht, a U.S. consultant traveling with the company representatives.

Noriko Yamagata, whom Vanacht described as HitachiSoft’s “genius software programmer,” gave Successful Farming Editor Rich Fee and me a tour of the company’s ag applications.

HitachiSoft, based in Tokyo, has about 5,000 employees, 4,000 of them software engineers. Twenty of them are devoted to ag.

Their applications are being used by 35 cooperatives in Japan, each of which is composed of 200 to 10,000 farmers. The biggest of these use HitachiSoft’s GeoMation Farm software to track up to 100,000 fields at a time.

In the demonstration we saw, the crops included soybeans, sugar beets, wheat, rice, vegetables, and forages. Yamagata showed us how farmers were able to quickly track basic data like soil types, fertilizer applications, tillage systems, rotations, and chemical use.

A harvest GPS system shows you the real-time location of equipment on a field map. Satellite imagery is used to show the growth stage and lodging of wheat, the protein content of rice, and the quality of forage crops. A cool-looking 3D display of a field lets you better visualize slopes and highlight erodible areas.

HitachiSoft has a different approach to ag, one it has borrowed from its service to other industries. Its program for the Japanese national electrical system, for example, includes 100 million “objects” in a GIS.

According to Vanacht the company’s “big engine” of a GIS is one of its main points of difference with other systems for ag.

HitachiSoft starts with a big picture that includes a ton of data and then works down to the field level, rather than starting at the field level and working up. This will make it easer for farmers to create maps that are easy to understand and use, Vanacht says.

"We believe our GIS is more powerful than existing U.S. [systems], said Osamu Nishiguchi, Agriculture Project Manager. "We also believe we have some existing agricultural applications that will interest U.S. farmers."

Rich and I came away impressed with HitachiSoft's people and products. You can’t help but wonder if the Japanese won’t do as well in farm fields as they have on the baseball diamond lately.


Al Bredenberg said...

John -- I was interested in what you had to say about Hitachisoft's GeoMation Farm software. Do you know whether this software is being used for biofuels production? I'm working on a report on the use of IT in biofuels engineering. Could we communicate about that by email perhaps? I am at
Al B.

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