By Feature Editor Kim Hyung-dae with Reporter Kim Young-myung
Hur Tae-woong, administrator of Rural Development Administration, says that RDA will remain committed to development of “digital agriculture” for sustainable growth of Korea’s farming industry. In an interview with Kim Hyung-dae, feature editor of the Korea Post, he said RDA plans to foster up to 5,500 elite young farmers by 2022. Plans call for offering support education for conflict management and creation of business models for start-ups. Administrator Hur also emphasized the need to strengthen cooperative ties with foreign countries in the field of agriculture. Following is a summary of the interview:
Question: It has been 100 days since you took office as administrator of the Rural Development Administration. Would you like to talk about what have you experienced?
Answer: Currently, Korea’s agriculture and rural communities are experiencing more difficult times than ever due to a slew of problems, including coronavirus19 outbreak, climate change, slippage in farm households, aging of rural population, livestock diseases, and plant epidemics such as peroxide disease. Innovative agricultural research and technology development are badly needed to address this challenging agricultural environment and develop our agriculture.
As a national agricultural R&D institution, I think the Rural Development Administration should play a significant role at the center, and in this regard, I feel a great sense of responsibility. In coming months, we will be committed to advancing agricultural research and technology development that can help alleviate the hardships of farmers and reinvigorate our agriculture. Of note, we will do our best to make agriculture stand out as a future growth industry by incorporating the 4th Industrial Revolution technology and creative ideas into agriculture.
Q: You has emphasized “digital agriculture” as a breakthrough to address the crisis in our agriculture and rural areas. Please explain about the current state of digital agriculture in Korea and its development efforts.
A: Agriculture, a labor-intensive industry, now faces a crisis due to a reduction and aging of farming population. Also, the rapid climate change, which has rolled off new records every year, including the worst heat wave, record-breaking monsoon, powerful typhoons, and the strongest cold wave, is threatening to shake off the foundation of our agricultural production.
- Reduction of farming population: 14.42 million (44.7%) in 1970, or nearly half of the total population, to 2.24 million (4.3%) in 2019
- Percentage of rural people aged 65 or older: (1970) 4.9%→(2019) 46.6%
- Amount of agricultural damage caused by weather disasters: (2015)67.9 billion won→ (2016)2,317 billion won→(2017)3,625 billion→(2018)7,997 billion won.
Digital agriculture involves efforts to implement high efficiency smart precision farming by utilizing technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and cloud. Digital agriculture aims to maximize convenience, productivity, and quality of farming by automating and digitizing the entire process of agriculture and providing optimal decision-making services
Advanced agricultural countries such as the Netherlands, the U.S., and Japan invariably support the management, analysis, and utilization of data, accelerating digital innovation in agriculture. Global agricultural companies are transforming into companies that provide “prescriptive planting” that can increase productivity and profitability by utilizing big data that collects, analyzes, and quantifies farming information.
Q: What research and technology are Korea pushing to develop digital agriculture?
A: Currently, Korea is slowly making a transition to digital agriculture to cope with urgent issues, including climate change, aging farming population, and stable supply of food. To promote data-based digital agriculture, the Rural Development Administration recently set up a "Digital Agricultural Promotion Task Force." In coming days, we will commit to developing digital farming technologies by dividing them into five areas: infrastructure technology, open-air farming, facility horticulture, livestock, and farmers' safety.
RDA will actively use digital farming technology for open-air farming, which is heavily influenced by the external environment such as soil, climate, and insect pests, has low levels of automation and mechanization, and requires long-term labor force.
The core technologies of open-air agriculture digitalization involve smart sensing and monitoring technology, automation of agricultural work, robotization technology, and smart decision technology. We will revamp up the research and development of these technologies. I am confident that data-based advanced digital agriculture will be the key to the sustainability of our agriculture.
A: The decrease in farming households and the aging of rural population poses the biggest risk for agriculture, as well as new challenges and opportunities for young people who are passionate and competent. Digital agriculture, which implements smart precision agriculture by utilizing the 4th Industrial Revolution technology, will enable young people to fulfill their dreams and hopes.
Q: You once said, “Agriculture can survive only when young farmers are around here.” Do you have any plans to foster larger number of young farmers in Korea?
A: RDA supports farming start-ups for young people who step in the agricultural sector. Of note, RDA is seeking to foster up to 5,000 elite young farmers by 2022. Plans call for support education for conflict management and creation of business models for youth farmers.
In order to reinvigorate the network of items such as rice, Korean beef, fruit, and facility vegetables, RDA supports consulting services by connecting experts from the Rural Development Administration to mentors and mentees. We also support digital capacity building programs utilizing big data to discover untact (non-face-to-face) businesses in the agricultural industry.
Q: There are reports that the “K-Agricultural Technology” cooperation project, which has contributed to agricultural development in developing countries, has made significant achievements. Would you like to talk about this issue?
A: Korea's agricultural, forestry and food technology levels are one of the world's leading groups, and when Korea joined the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2009, we became an “aid-giving country” from “a country receiving aid.” We have received lots of requests from many developing countries to pass on the “green revolution” agricultural technology that achieved self-sufficiency in rice.
RDA’s development and distribution of locally usable agricultural technologies to developing countries from 2009 contributed to the development of agriculture and the increase of farm income in involved countries. Currently, KOPIA centers have been set up in 22 countries including Asia, Africa, and Latin America. According to an analysis to mark the 10th anniversary of the KOPIA (Korea Program for International Technology in Agriculture) last year, the total production inducement effect in developing countries amounted to $112.9 million.
We have pursued global agricultural co-growth by addressing common agricultural issues such as food problems, climate change, and agricultural productivity. Korea-Asia Agro-Food Technology Cooperation Council (AFACI) was launched in November 2009 to address these issues with participation of 14 countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Nepal.
Q: It was reported that RDA succeeded in growing rice in the UAE desert last May. It is understood that the second rice crop cultivation is in progress.
A: During the Korea-UAE summit in March 2018, UAE strongly requested the transfer of rice cultivation technology to Korea, and as a follow-up measure, began rice planting based on water and energy conservation in the desert. UAE, where 97% of its land is desert, is difficult to grow rice, and its consumption is high at 95 kg per person, but it relies on imports for all of its staple rice, so it is very interested in rice farming.
In November last year, the "Asemi" variety was sown in the Sharjah region of the UAE, despite various difficulties during the five-month cultivation period and succeeded in harvesting the first rice crop in May. However, considering the management costs such as water use, the first rice cultivation has yet to be economically feasible. It is significant that we identified the possibility of growing rice in desert areas of the "Asemi" variety and demonstrated the entire process from sowing to harvesting.
The second rice test cultivation has been in progress since the end of August by utilizing the “furrow cultivation” technology, which focuses on water conservation. Furrow cultivation is to make furrows every 30cm in the rice paddy field, sow rice seeds in there, and then water it. Water use is expected to reduce by roughly 70% by minimizing the evaporation area and underground water drain.