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Drones offer high-tech help to Japan's aging farmers

For several months, developers and farmers in northeast Japan have been testing a new drone that can hover above paddy fields and perform backbreaking tasks in a fraction of the time it takes for elderly farmers.

Developers of the new agricultural drone say it offers high-tech relief for rural communities facing a shortage of labor as young people leave for the cities.

The drone can apply pesticides and fertilizer to a rice field in about 15 minutes - a job that takes more than an hour by hand and requires farmers to lug around heavy tanks.

The Nile-T18 was developed by drone start-up Nileworks Inc and recently tested in collaboration with JA Miyagi Tome and trading house Sumitomo Corp.

Their aim is to ease the physical burden and improve productivity in rural areas battling decades of falling birth rates and migration to urban areas.

In Tome, farmers are an average 67-68 years old and they may only have another 4-5 years of farming left, Sakakibara said.

Compared to larger radio-controlled mini-helicopters that cost around 15 million yen ($135,758) with spray equipment, the drone is smaller and cheaper, with a pricetag of about 4 million yen.

Nileworks is negotiating with authorities to allow operators to fly its drone without a license. It can be controlled with an iPad and runs on mapping software that is simple to operate.

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