Region/Countries: Asia, Japan Industry: Agriculture / Timber Date: July 2017

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: With an aging population and declining interest in forestry among younger workers, Japan has an urgent need to automate its forestry work, and Wisconsin can help supply technology and expertise.

In Japan, where the population is declining and society is aging rapidly, there is an urgent need for automation and mechanization of forest management. Currently this work requires the manpower of many highly skilled workers.  In addition to demographic trends, another contributing factor is that young workers typically consider this work to be “demanding, dirty and “dangerous,” and do not pursue jobs in the industry.

Japan is a rugged island country surrounded by ocean. About 62 million acres, or two-thirds of the nation’s territory, are occupied by forests, including 25 million acres of planted forests. The accumulation of timber resources is about 4.9 billion m³ as of 2012, and that number has been increasing by about 100 million m³ each year for the past 50 years, so appropriate management is becoming urgent.

Japan’s national forest management plan outlines a the need to promote the following efforts: development of advanced machines for forest work consistent with forest conditions in Japan, such as steep and complicated topography, narrow roads and large-diameter trees to be logged; and introduction of advanced machines for forest work, manufactured domestically and abroad, that responds to the latest needs of timber resources.

It will be crucial for Japan to develop and adopt highly functional machines that can secure work sites, complete logging and reforest after logging. This can be done by highly functional unmanned machines that are remotely operated and automated, utilizing the latest communication technology, artificial intelligence technology and unmanned steering technology, similar to that seen in drones used for surveying projects. Introducing advanced machines for forest work will improve safety and efficiency and reduce work cost, and may also make it easier to attract younger workers. Furthermore, these technological advancements can bring about the healthy renewal of forests and a steady supply of fuel that is generated by biomass power, thus contributing to the prevention or slowing of global warming.

Japan’s national budget allocates up to $3.2 billion (353 billion) for forest management every year. Local governments contribute additional funding.

Forestry is a major industry in Wisconsin, and the state has a wealth of knowledge about forest management—to name just one example, the World Woodcut Championship Competition is held there every year. Wisconsin has the knowledge and technology to play a major role as the Japanese market develops advanced machines for forest work.