Satellites are being increasingly viewed as useful tools to help farmers and insurance inspectors assess damage to rice crops in Japan. Researchers say they expect to have a high-tech satellite-based observation system up and running in about three years. It will be able to measure the extent of crop spoilage due to abnormal weather conditions, harmful insects and other factors. The information will assist farmers in filing damage insurance claims and make insurance appraisals more efficient. The system is being jointly developed by Space Engineering Development Company, Chiba University and others in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will be introduced on a practical basis in 2008 for prefectures that regularly experience damage from cold weather, storms and pest infestations.
Researchers are analyzing data from rice paddies in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region from the past five years. By comparing the data with satellite images, they hope to map out characteristics to correspond with the different types of damage. Through the statistical analysis of data from more than 500 rice paddies, the researchers hope to be able to grasp the true damage situation from satellite pictures. The satellite observation network will also aid crop forecasting. Under their plan, satellite images will help scientists assess how cold weather has hindered the ripening process of rice ears or how the ears have been affected by storms. It will also be possible, they say, to judge the onset of rice blight or insect damage according to the color of rice ears. Also involved in the project is the National Agricultural Insurance Association of Japan.