Fukushima dairy farmers look to large-scale ‘reconstruction farms’ to revive battered industry

5 January 2018

[Translated by the Japan Times]Dairy farmers in Fukushima Prefecture plan to build what they call “reconstruction farms” by fiscal 2020 as part of efforts to boost the industry in the areas tainted by the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The Fukushima Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative, their industry body, is eyeing three locations for the new farms — Minamisoma’s Odaka Ward, the town of Kawamata’s Yamakiya district and the village of Iitate — which residents were forced to flee after the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The envisaged farms would host a combined 1,600 cows for milk production and also host a research and development hub for cutting-edge biotechnology, according to people familiar with the plan.

The introduction of milking robots for mass production is one of the key features of the plan. The dairy farmers will also tie up with Zenrakuren, the industry’s nationwide body, to improve R&D, the people said.

Under the plan, Minamisoma would raise some 1,000 cows, Kawamata would take care of 200 to 300 and Iitate 350. The Minamisoma site would become a mass distribution center with a cold storage facility for produced milk.

Other facilities to be built for the farms include a production center for nutrient-rich cattle feed and a research center for fertilized eggs. They will work toward producing high-quality breeds — not only milk cows but also wagyu.

The people familiar with the plan emphasized the benefits of scale that would result by combining the operations of each dairy farmer and minimizing the running costs. That would help stabilize their business, they said.

Last year, cattle feed production facilities started up in Minamisoma and Kawamata, with another in Iitate soon to follow suit to supply the new farms, they said.

Cooperation with academic circles is also within the scope of the new project. Fukushima University will offer a new course on related studies from April 2019, and the dairy farmers hope that cooperating with the university will help foster a new generation of human resources for the industry.

Minamisoma plans to build lodgings for students and researchers, including those from Fukushima University and other institutions from across the country. Dairy farmers who want to experiment with new business methods would also be welcome.

The cost of building the farms is estimated at around ¥12 billion. The Fukushima Prefectural Government is negotiating with the municipalities involved in the project and plans to make use of a central government subsidy for reconstruction projects.

According to the Fukushima Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative, large-scale farming is seen as the key to the industry’s future as the population grays, leaving farms with a lack of successors.

Within Fukushima, milk producers are aging fast, and slashing production costs is the top priority. Even if there are young dairy farmers with aspirations, there aren’t enough opportunities for them to start up, the cooperative said.

It also hopes that running large-scale farms with cutting-edge R&D functions would give consumers peace of mind about product safety by accurately grasping data related to radiation in milk and pasture grass.

In 2015, the Fukushima cooperative launched the prototype for a large-scale support base for local farmers in the city of Fukushima. But Minoru Munakata, the head of the cooperative, said the business environment remains harsh.

“We hope running mass-scale farms will lead to cutting costs. We will work to make it a success,” he said.