Even as Japan balks at trade concessions, farmers move on
"With Japan's big financial deficit, there is certainly thinking that down the road that subsidies could be lowered," said Hiroyuki Kawashima, an associate professor in the global agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, in reference to the rice-for-feed program.
Against that backdrop, some of Japan's small farmers are looking for a market niche - rather than a government subsidy - as their best hope for the future.
That includes Noboru Tsukahara, who has farms in Ibararki, northeast of Tokyo, and northern Hokkaido. He believes he is the world's only commercial provider of the purebred "meishan" breed of pork, considered a premium delicacy.
When JA quoted Tsukahara a low price for his pork since it was classified outside of its grading system, he opted out to win distribution contracts on his own with high-end department stores like those run by Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings (3099.T) and Michelin-rated restaurants.
"It is no longer the era of mass production and mass consumption. With Japan's population falling, it's the reverse, so I feel unique products that are not found everywhere will be what appeal to consumers," he told Reuters.
Kenji Okumatsu in southern Miyazaki prefecture, was able to use a connection to sell his mini-tomatoes at the local airport. They were a hit and food buyers discovered his farm, which now has annual sales of almost $5 million and 40 employees.
"The era of being a farmer because you are from a farming family has passed," Okumatsu said. "What is needed is not just farmers, but farmers with an entrepreneurial spirit."
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