Japan News Update #47 (28 Feb-13 Mar 2023)

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

by Yuki Sano

R&D on robotics and AI

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) has developed a technology for accurately predicting and controlling the harvest date to realize just-in-time (JIT) production of strawberries. Producers will be able to identify market demand fluctuations and match the harvest date of the fruit to the desired shipping date by implementing this JIT production system.

Source: NARO developed technology to predict and control the harvest date of strawberries; press release by NARO

The University of Electro-Communications has created a drone with edible wings in partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and others. In the case of a calamity, the drone will be able to locate individuals in need and save their lives by serving as an emergency food supply. The edible robot is also biodegradable, meaning microbes may break it down.

Source: Drones with edible materials

Sapporo, a Japanese brewer, utilizes artificial intelligence (AI), developed in collaboration with IBM Japan, to cut the time it takes to produce new goods in half to keep up with ever-changing trends in the prepared cocktail industry. Suntory Holdings and Kirin presently dominate the Japanese ready-to-drink cocktail industry. But, fifth-placed Sapporo saw a 36% increase in sales of its staple product in 2022 and is eager to capitalize on that momentum.

Source: Sapporo taps AI to quench Japan's thirst for cocktails in a can

Photo: Chuhai, Japanese popular ready-to-drink

Trends toward sustainable livestock production

An egg farm in Aomori Prefecture will implement new facilities. Large-scale farms with over 1 million birds will be divided into groups and maintained independently, utilizing distinct employees, trucks, equipment, and egg-grading and packing facilities to mitigate the spread of avian flu. The farm wants to decrease the number of birds liable to culls if avian flu is confirmed at the site by managing groups of coops independently.

Source: Poultry Farm to Subdivide Facilities to Avoid Large-scale Culls amid Avian Flu Outbreak

KAICO Ltd., a startup from Kyushu University, received an award for its "Practical Application of Oral Vaccine and Feed Additive for Pigs" project at the 5th Japan Open Innovation Awards sponsored by the Cabinet Office. The firm has succeeded in producing an antigen protein that serves as an active ingredient in an oral vaccine for pigs, using a method for making the target protein in the silkworm. It also works with Sojitz, a major trading company, on a project to distribute this antigen protein as a feed additive by blending it into feed.

Source: Oral swine vaccine wins Japan open innovation award

Eco-Pork, an Agri-tech startup, concluded a partnership with Nisshin Marubeni Feed Corporation and was entrusted with OEM of MN-FIS, swine production management software using AI. All phases of pig farming, from breeding to fattening, will be managed in the cloud. They will promote digitalization in swine production.

Source: Startup and Marubeni Nisshin Feed form partnership toward pork management with AI

Approximately 80% of animal feed in Japan is imported. Town officials in one part of northern Japan encouraged rice farmers to switch to corn because it was not only cheaper, but also required less work than rice. Around 8,000 tons were harvested in 2021, more than four times the amount produced seven years ago.

Source: Japan turns to corn to improve food security

Low-cost solutions to labor issues

Mie Prefecture Agricultural Research Institute has developed equipment that can be used to spray pesticides on fruit trees by attaching it to light trucks. With the shortage of farmers and the increase in the number of devastated fruit orchards, this machine can save labor at a low cost.

Source: Low-cost speed sprayer for fruit trees using a light truck

Light truck with a rice farmer
Photo: Light truck with a rice farmer

Alternative proteins from fishmeal to sushi

Marubeni, a major trading company, has agreed to collaborate with Ynsect, a French startup that operates insect farms that raise nutrient-rich mealworm larvae, to develop feed for fish commonly farmed in Japan, such as sea bream and yellowtail. As fishmeal prices rise, mealworm-based feed provides an alternative. Ynsect has raised $400 million in capital and operates three insect farms in France, the United States, and the Netherlands.

Source: Marubeni hopes Japan will snap up bug-based fish feed

Tokyo has long been a disappointment for vegetarians, Hindus, and vegans. However, change is afoot in Tokyo's kitchens, from vegetable sushi to simple additions to everyday restaurant menus. The city is now a much more welcoming place for people whose diet is based on plants.

Source: Plant-based cuisine takes root in Tokyo

Kewpie, a Japanese food company best known for mayonnaise, launched a plant-based line inspired by consumers' growing concern about the environment. In Japan, the plant-based food market is exploding. Kagome, a rival food company known for its ketchup, is already selling an egg-free omelet-and-rice meal.

Source: Kewpie launches plant-based brand