Japan News Update (9-22 Mar. 2021)

Stay updated on the latest agricultural news in Japan, that we publish every two weeks.

by Yuki Sano

Agro robotics in fields and food services

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) developed a technology that can predict the best time to harvest cabbage. This technology calculates the leaves' area covering the ground surface based on aerial images of the field. Combining crop information such as varieties and weather forecast data makes it possible to predict the optimum harvest time two weeks in advance with an error of one day. NARO expects to be operational in FY2023 for use in contract farming for processing and commercial use, where accuracy in shipping timing and quantity is required.
Source: NARO developed a prediction technology for harvesting cabbage with high accuracy

In April, JA Zen-noh and BASF Japan will deploy xarvio® FIELD MANAGER, an AI-based growth and disease forecasting system for paddy rice and soybeans. xarvio will work in conjunction with Zen-noh's GIS agricultural support system to display growth and disease forecasts on a map and apply fields needed fertilizer to support variable fertilizer application.
Source: Zen-Noh and BASF collaborate on an AI farming system, using maps to predict growth and disease.

Oishii Farm is a plant factory startup from New York, and their plant factory produces strawberries. Mr Koga said that plant factories in Japan have not been very profitable in the past. However, in recent years, plant factories in the United States have been attracting attention from sustainability.
Source: New York-Based Startup Raises 5.5 Billion Yen to Deliver Japanese Quality Strawberries Made in Plant Factories to the World

Soba noodles eatery at railway stations, facing a chronic shortage of human resources, implemented a robot that automatically cooks soba noodles to its actual stores. East Japan Railway Co. related company, JR East Start Up, and Connected Robotics Inc, which develops cooking robots for the restaurant industry, develop this system. "Not only is there a shortage of human resources, but it can also cook without contact, which is useful in preventing the risk of corona infection," said Connected Robotics Inc.
Source: New soba noodle-making robot at Japan train station eatery can cook 150 servings an hour

Sustainability trends in food service

The Japanese government has adopted a cabinet decision on a draft law to promote the plastic waste generation and recycling control. However, as the new coronavirus outbreak has slowed down the number of customers, many restaurants secure their profits through takeout and delivery. Officials from large foodservice companies voiced their concern that charging for plastic spoons and other items would deprive them of delivery customers.
Source: Japan's push for less plastic use has some businesses concerned

Soba noodles
Photo: Soba noodles

Effect Corona on import and export

Imported American beef in Japan has proved so popular that it's topped the annual limits called "safeguards," and the U.S. Meat Export Federation on Thursday urged Tokyo to raise the threshold. According to the Japanese Finance Ministry, Japan's import limit of 242,000 tons of U.S. beef was reached in early March, leading to an increase in tariffs from 25.8 per cent to 38.5 per cent for the month of Thursday through April 16.
Source: Japan raises tariffs on US beef after hitting import limit

Japanese low-cost carriers, whose passenger traffic has plummeted due to the new coronavirus, focus on the cargo business to boost sales. Since last year, JAL has operated a dedicated cargo flight at Haneda connecting Fukuoka-Haneda-Bangkok. They have also started shipping from Narita using the domestic flight (Fukuoka-Narita) of Jetstar, which they jointly operate, to deliver fresh fish from Kyushu to Thailand.
Source: Japan's low-cost carriers make forays into cargo amid pandemic-led passenger drop

Effect Corona on food industry

Now Tokyo 2020 Olympics’ expected decision to block foreign visitors from attending the games means a boost the service sector was counting on to recover lockdown-related losses will not materialize. In the years leading up to the games, developers have poured hundreds of billions of yen into shopping and restaurant complexes to serve an influx of foreign tourists. But the number of foreign visitors has dropped from nearly 32 million in 2019 to almost zero.
Source: Japanese businesses face a future Olympics without overseas visitors

Tokyo Olympics advertisement
Photo: Tokyo Olympics advertisement on the subway

According to a Japanese government survey, worker sentiment on the economy's state improved in February for the first time in four months. A clerk at a department store in the Tokyo metropolitan area said sales increase, especially food products, at stores in the suburbs. The region is under a state of emergency for the coronavirus, but workers say the damage is more limited than when the government declared the state of emergency last year. The Cabinet Office has raised its assessment that the economy shows signs of recovery, although difficulties remain due to the pandemic.
Source: Japan workers' sentiment improved in February

In the wake of the pandemic, alcohol-free beer is experiencing an unexpected boom. The boom is a rare tailwind for Japan's industry, which is estimated to be worth 3.3 trillion yen ($30 billion). The industry has been experiencing sluggish demand as Japan's population ages and wine and other alcoholic beverages gain popularity. However, the sector has not gained popularity in Japan for a long time. According to Euromonitor data, non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beer sales accounted for under 5% of all Japan beer sales in 2019, far behind 20% for Australia and 12% for Germany.
Source: Analysis: A sobering strategy for pandemic times - Japan brewers bank on alcohol-free beer boom

Japanese cheese

Most Japanese cheesemakers import their bacteria from overseas and use a process from overseas. But if we can use our bacteria with a unique method, we can make a distinctly Japanese cheese with its special taste.  Chiyo Shibata trained as a microbiologist and owner of the cheesery Fromage Sen believes that these domestic microorganisms are essential for award-winning cheeses.
Source: Fromage Sen creates a cheese that Japan can call its own

For previous agricultural news updates, click here.