Faculty of Engineering

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Research Highlights

Pecan nuts: the key to Japanese rural revitalization

Pecan nuts have been amassing gastronomical fans around the world, from the omnipresent pecan pie to more experimental applications such as maple-pecan pork chops or pecan chicken salad. These nuts are undoubtedly enjoying ever-increasing popularity, but few people know how these complex nuts grow in various conditions. This has been one of the major research topics of KUAS’ Dr. Kazuo Oki, and he has a grand vision for it in his home country of Japan.

Having conducted his research in Arizona, he looked at optimal growing conditions and how different types of pecan nuts mix together. This is done through measurement, specifically capturing images of the plantation through a drone. The agricultural sector is seeing an massive shift towards the use of drones, and the benefits over the previously used satellites are abundant: higher screen resolution allowing for more detail, higher frequency of measurement (due to daily measurement being possible) as well as the ability to gather data in bad weather. Specifically, with regards to pecan nuts, satellite images cannot capture instances where the various types of pecan nuts have mixed. Dr. Oki has even gone so far to find a working solution to use drones in keeping away crows, who enjoy snacking on the nuts, from the plantation.

Now he believes he can replicate optimal growing conditions in Japan - solving one of the country’s major issues along the way. The ageing, declining population in the country has resulted in depopulation in rural areas, and the agricultural sector is hit especially hit. There are simply not enough capable farmers, and open, unused land is becoming increasingly common. It is this land that Dr. Oki envisions to be transformed to grow pecan nuts. It is a perfect marriage for a multitude of reasons: in addition to finding a use for suitable land that is being unused in rural areas, pecan nuts do not require a great deal of care as they can be planted extensively while being able to be monitored through drones and sensing technology, a point of importance when considering the shrinking workforce in the sector. Furthermore, the nuts possess health benefits that include prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. However, Dr. Oki cannot undertake this task alone. At KUAS, he is eager to develop his knowledge about the nut further through collaboration with the Department of Bioenvironmental Engineering - all the while corresponding with local governments and business to work towards making his dream a reality.