One man shows how rice farming can be competitive

By Harumi Ozawa

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© 2014 AFP

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The Japanese government has long protected its farmers by banning virtually all rice imports, claiming the country needed to remain self sufficient in its staple grain. Many farmers are predicting dire consequences for Japanese agriculture if the ban is lifted. They claim they cannot compete with imports because the economies of scale of huge U.S. farms are impossible on the tiny plots of arable land squeezed between Japan's many mountains.

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And then people like young Mr. Yokota come along and show them that modernizing can make them competitive.

18 ( +17 / -0 )

I remember shouchu makers saying that they would all go out of business if tariffs were lifted on foreign whiskey and spirits. 20 years late, the shouchu industry is stronger than anyone ever imagined.

Japanese are especially good at buying locally, so I think the alternative will make rice farmers finally improve their methods (as the shouchu makers did).

So far as economies of scale in the US, at the rate they are using water that won't last long. It's absolutely crazy to grow a water intensive crop like rice in a desert. Yet, that's exactly what is being done in places like California and Australia. The water is already running out. And then there are the other methods needed to grow food on a massive scale that lower the quality of the final product.

If Japanese farmers would focus on making good rice, and doing it efficiently, they will do fine.

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Kind of makes you want to sell the shack and move to Japan to be a subsidized rice farmer in Japan

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Abe should read this, Japan's farming needs to become efficient and this guy seems to understand.

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I think the days of lots of rice farmers owning small plots will be coming to an end in Japan. We may see rice farms on large plots of flat land turned into cooperatives, where a smaller group of farmers grow rice with much more modern agricultural techniques than before.

A good example of this is the flat plain around the city of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, an area that has grown rice for many hundreds of years. I can see a change to large-scale cooperative rice farming--probably within the next decade.

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Keep and Support local farming in Japan.

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And then people like young Mr. Yokota come along and show them that modernizing can make them competitive.

More competitive does not mean internationally competitive.

“If our supply exceeds domestic consumption, then we will bring it overseas—the TPP wouldn’t be a threat in that sense,” he said.

And if there were unicorns, you could use the manure for fertilizer.

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"And Yokota doesn’t fear opening up to foreign competition—taboo in a place where rice is a sacred cow that is protected by subsidies and massive tariffs."

Good to see some rice farmers who can ACTUALLY compete and who have the right mind for where the future of rice-farming here needs to go. Left to the old oyajis who get handouts to stay afloat and complain even then, the country's agricultural sector will indeed eventually collapse, especially if left out of the TPP.

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i believe rich chinese would pay the premium for a product that is not full of pesticides and/or otherwise contaminated by pollution. i certainly would prefer to not to eat anything grown in china no matter how cheap it is.

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778% rice tariff? That is insane!

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A lot of rice exported to the U.S. is from Thailand, not China. I'd like to see cheap bags of that in the stores here, but tempting the Japanese palate is another story. Still, with cheaper rice, we'll see cheaper food. 99 yen gyudon anyone?

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“I am one of very few full-time farmers in this area, and the people who were retiring didn’t have anyone in the family to continue growing rice. But they don’t want to sell the land.”

The above is a HUGE issue, just attempting to enlarge plots one quickly finds out each tiny plot is BOXED in. The whole of agriculture & land ownership is desperate for new idea & methods.

Japan should have been working on this since the 80s but has let the old ways drag on, even if there were 10,000 young farmers ready to have at it they could never amass a decent size plot(s) to have chance at economies of scale, the guy in the article(way to go!) is a real rarity to get that much space!

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One of my Japanese friend's brother who lives in Thailand always buys some Japanese rice to take back to Thailand. And here's me who always brings back brown basmati rice to Japan whenever I visit my home country! (And it's so cheap). No ridiculous 778% tariff.

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"What needs to be done is encourage older farmers to retire and then gather small pieces of land into one big lot for someone capable like Yokota," said Masayoshi Honma, an economics professor at Tokyo University.

No. That needed to be done about 40 years ago, though it may be too late now.

GWOCT. 20, 2014 - 10:14PM JST The above is a HUGE issue, just attempting to enlarge plots one quickly finds out each tiny plot is BOXED in. The whole of agriculture & land ownership is desperate for new idea & methods.

Yup. There is no reason this can't be done now, regardless of ownership. Let the old people hang on to the title of land that is worth very little when it remains a small plot, but doze the road and dike between adjacent fields so larger scale, fully mechanized rice farming can happen. The rural vote if of little value today to its old patron, the LDP, so there is no justifying this even on political grounds but lots of economic reasons for changing the status quo.

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California export rice may be cheape than Japanese rice, but the fact that rice farmers in California's semi-desert are supplied water at below cost is also a form of subsidy.

If farmers here no longer got their water at below cost, market forces might entice them to use the land differently, and the price of California rice would sky-rocket.

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