Category Archives: japan

3 Picks: SD Cattle Catastrophy, Japan’s Groundwater, Sustainable Barn

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Catastrophic Early Snowstorm Kills Thousands of Cattle in South Dakota: By Chet Brokaw. “‘It’s the worst early season snowstorm I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ Early estimates suggest western South Dakota lost at least 5 percent of its cattle. Some individual ranchers reported losses of 20 percent to 50 percent of their livestock.’ …”

2) Japanese Municipalities’ are Creating Initiatives to Conserve Groundwater: By Junji Hashimoto. In Japan, where they have been using more groundwater since the 2011 earthquake, farmers and municipalities are working together and creating ordinances to use groundwater in conjunction with monitoring recharge rates. Through methods of cooperation, and a recharge calculation formula which reduces water fees when greater amounts of groundwater are recharged, they are smartly planning for the future.

3) UK’s Award-winning eco-build slashes thousands from farm’s running costs: “…by combining modern technology with traditional materials like sheep fleece and straw, it is possible to create a sustainable rural building that not only has a very low carbon footprint it is also saving many thousands of pounds in running costs. … Materials used in the construction and for running the building were sourced from the fields of the Allerton Project farm, including straw for the walls and sheep fleece for insulation. Wood chip harvested from the estate’s own woodland provide fuel for the biomass boiler to heat the hot water and the thermostatically zoned under-floor heating. Rainwater is collected for the toilets and showers, while sixteen roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels provide electrical power to the building…”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Photo credit: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Hot 5: Corn Production. Nebraska GDP. Dr. Daniel Hillel. Farming in Japan. Greenhorns.

1. The Globe Ramps Up Its Corn Production in Response to Higher Prices and Less Price Competition from the U.S.

World coarse grain production in 2012/13 is forecast to increase more than 7 percent to a record 1,228 million tons, boosted by record corn crops by the United States and major foreign producers. U.S. exports and export sales have slumped. Foreign producers, including China, Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine are expected to respond to the sustained high coarse grain prices of recent years with production of record corn crops. Foreign coarse grain harvested area in 2012/13 is projected up 2 percent due to higher prices.

Corn ethanol use for 2011/12 is projected up 50 million bushels this month to 5,050 million as recent ethanol production data have been stronger than expected. While slowing from its peak in December 2011, ethanol production and use has been partly sustained by ethanol exports, as declining gasoline use and limits to blending ethanol have curbed domestic use.

Brazil’s second-crop corn has received exceptionally favorable rains in areas like Mato Grosso, where the dry season normally cuts corn yield potential. The huge second crop more than offsets reduced first-crop area and below-trend first-crop yields, boosting the total corn production to record levels. For the first time, second-crop yields are estimated higher than first-crop yields, with second-crop accounting for nearly half of corn production. Partly offsetting is a 0.5-million-ton reduction for corn production in Argentina, to 21.0 million as excessive rains and flooding have delayed the corn harvest and caused some yield loses. (Source: USDA)

2. What Gives? Nebraska was Among the Lowest GDP Growth States in 2011.

From the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Most people would probably assume that the Midwestern farm states did well economically in 2011. Not so. The average U.S. real GDP by state grew 1.5 percent in 2011, after a 3.1 percent increase in 2010, and a negative 3.8 percent in 2009. But the higher growth states in 2011 were coastal, with subpar performance down the center of the nation.

Here is the list of states in the lowest tear from this latest Bureau of Economic Analysis Report:

Wyoming -1.2
Mississippi -.8
Alabama -.8
New Jersey -.5
Maine -.4
Hawaii -.2
Montana 0
Missouri 0
Nebraska .1
New Mexico .2

Experts in the state of Nebraska are stumped by the report, since the hype has all been positive about high agricultural returns last year. Creighton’s economist Ernie Goss who does the Rural Mainstreet Reports says he can’t explain it.

I have to wonder whether Nebraska might be exporting its Ag profits at the expense of its land and aquifer. Though it’s known as a “farm state”, agriculture isn’t that big of an employer or income generator in Nebraska. It always surprises people when they learn that Omaha is the headquarters for five Fortune 500 companies. The famous rich man “I’ll-let-you-pay-millions-for-the-privilege-of-taking-me-out-for-lunch” Warren Buffett certainly doesn’t employ many people in his office. Agribusinesses headquartered elsewhere collect much farm profit when Ag inputs are high. Ethanol, one of the main drivers of the Nebraska farm economy right now employs few people and the plants are often owned by agribusinesses like ADM. Unemployment rates in Nebraska, always touted as so fabulously “low”, in reality are low because people quickly leave brain-drain states if they don’t have jobs. Yes, real estate and farmland prices are strong but that’s on paper, and houses are still cheap compared to the rest of the country. Nebraska is known as a tax-me state. Aging and conservative populations don’t help with the velocity of money, either.

Is this a nonstory? I don’t think so. The story here is that our natural resources of Midwestern topsoil and water are being mined without all that much local economic gain, even with the gimmee corn ethanol mandate which has about tripled corn prices. What might surprise many is that farm income was only 5.7% of Nebraska income in 2008 and agriculture represented only 6.8% of Nebraska’s GDP in 2008. The environmental destruction of the region due to agriculture contributes to its brain drain and aging demographics.

Nebraska is the third largest corn producing state after Iowa and Illinois. It is using 45.6 million acres, or 92.7 percent of its land for farming (and ranching) on a total of 47,200 farms. Corn and soybeans are grown on 32 percent of that land. Nebraska has the most irrigated acres of any state at 8.6 million.

Frank and Deborah Popper, help me out here.

3. Dr. Daniel Hillel Named 2012 World Food Prize Laureate

Eighty-one year old Israeli Professor Daniel Hillel has won the World Food Prize 2012, a prize which was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Fascinated with growing food under extremely tough growing conditions, he was among the first to develop the idea of using drip or micro-irrigation, now embraced as a water efficient method of irrigation around our world. A lover of soil health and a big thinker about the way in which humans interact, or lack interaction with nature, was part of what he taught his students. “Detachment has bred ignorance and out of ignorance comes the delusion that our civilisation has risen above nature and has set itself free of its constraints.” He liked to illustrate points using language derivations, “… the Latin name for man, homo, derived from humus, the stuff of life in the soil.”

Hillel traveled to the U.S. for high school, undergraduate, and master’s degrees and then returned to Israel to work for the Agriculture Ministry in 1951. He earned his PhD in soil physics and ecology at the Hebrew University in 1957.

His concept of micro-irrigation was embraced by the FAO of the United Nations, which then helped teach the system to many regions of the world, including the Middle East.

As he accepted the prize, Hillel said, “The task of improving the sustainable management of the earth’s finite and vulnerable soil, water and energy resources for the benefit of humanity while sustaining the natural biotic community and its overall environmental integrity is an ongoing and increasingly urgent challenge.”

Now days Hillel splits his time between Israel and New York and is a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the Columbia University Earth Institute in New York. He’s focusing on global climate change, deforestation and land degradation.

4. PBS NewsHour Covers the Changing World of Farming in Japan

Japan imports 60 percent of its food, its farming population is aged, the values of the youth are changing, and its ministry is questioning production methods used there. It would make more sense to import the food that they need from more efficient world agricultural producers but they worry about their national food security. (9 minutes)

5. Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement

I found myself seated next to a most pleasant young man the other evening at an eat-local dinner. He said he was from Iowa and never dreamed he’d choose to do what he’s doing now following his escape from farm country and a college degree from the West Coast. He is an intern on an organic farm in Boulder County and dreams of a life as a farmer. He and his East Coast girl friend are trying to pick a place to set up. He realizes that they need a place with a strong market that isn’t already over-run with competition. He asked me to feature the Greenhorns book on my site, so here it is, and best of luck to you, Jeff, as you venture out. May the force be with you in the way of a changing Ag policy in America that supports what you and the rest of the greenhorns are doing.

Here’s a Greenhorn book review by Whitney Scott:

Essays on the spirituality and physicality of farming; the skill-building and life lessons accompanying the increased connection to the earth; and improved self-sufficiency define the Greenhorn movement. Fleming, founder and director of this group promoting young farmers, joins other Greenhorns and biodynamic farm enthusiasts in gathering writings on farming as an expression of patriotism and hope, addressing local food surety and self-reliance advocates, and farmers new and established, all connected in a reconstitution of a local, resilient, and delicious food system. Financing, tools, and community are major categories. Draft-powered farmer Alyssa Jumars writes that she’s never felt so alive as behind the great ass of a draft horse, and Jon Piana praises community effort turning a weeks-long harvest into an hour’s labor. Charming line drawings reinforce the anthology’s texts, supplemented by a far-ranging list of resources. Readers will also be interested in the documentary film The Greenhorns.

USDA Report: Japan’s Rice Situation After the Tsunami

The USDA report on the Japan tsunami’s effects upon the rice supply and agriculture are in agreement with what I surmised a few days after the event. I have highlighted a few sentences of special interest.


From the report…
Japan’s Rice Sector in Brief

• Japan is currently the 10th largest rice producing country in the world, accounting for about 2 percent of the global crop. Japan’s share of global rice consumption is also about 2 percent. Both total and per capita rice consumption in Japan are declining, mostly due to diet diversification and a decreasing population.

• Japan imports about 682,000 tons (milled basis) of rice each year, or about 2 percent of global rice trade. All imported rice is part of Japan’s minimum access requirements agreed to under the WTO. The United States typically supplies about half of Japan’s annual rice imports.

• Imports account for about 6 percent of Japan’s total rice supply. Much of the imported rice is used in processed products, as well as in feed. Tariff rates for any rice imported above the minimum access requirements are prohibitive. On balance, Japan is nearly self-sufficient in rice.

• Japan exports about 200,000 tons of rice per year as food aid, with its imported rice accounting for some of these shipments. Commercial exports are extremely small.

Little Impact on Japan’s Rice Production

Not much rice is grown in the areas directly affected by the tsunami, which flooded areas up to 3 miles inland. Most rice in Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate—the most severely affected prefectures—is grown farther west. Together, these three prefectures account for almost 13 percent of Japan’s rice production. Damage to rice fields was much less in the two other affected prefectures, Ibaraki and Aomori. Although these five prefectures typically account for about 21 percent of Japan’s total rice production, preliminary analysis of satellite imagery suggests that less than 1.5 percent of Japan’s rice land was actually flooded by the tsunami.

• Rice fields in Japan are currently fallow. The 2010 harvest ended in November and the 2011 rice plantings will not begin until late-April and early May.

There is a substantial amount of land in Japan that has been diverted from rice planting since 1969 that could be brought back into production. Current rice area is just half the 1960 record of 3.3 million hectares.

Adequate Stocks Are Available in Japan

• Although the tsunami and earthquake likely destroyed some rice in storage, there is much rice stored in other parts of the country that could compensate for damaged rice if transportation—including fuel—is available and roads and bridges are intact.

• Prior to the March 11 tsunami, USDA estimated that about 2.8 million tons (milled basis) of rice would be in stocks by the end of the 2010/11 market year on November 1, 2011. Of the projected 2.8 million tons, the Government keeps about a million tons of rice in reserve stocks. Additionally, there are almost 900,000 tons of rice that were imported under Japan’s WTO minimum access requirements.

• Overall, the ending stocks estimate indicates a comfortable 33 percent stocks-to-use ratio. The global stocks-to-use ratio for rice is around 22 percent, adequate for a major food grain. For the United States, a 12-15 percent stocks-to-use ratio typically is sufficient to maintain prices.

• The Japanese Government has a history of not importing any rice above its WTO minimum access requirements, even in years of weak production, preferring instead to draw down its stocks.

Despite these mitigating factors, the tsunami has likely adversely impacted the Japanese rice sector in several ways:

The rice fields that were flooded will likely be unable to grow rice this year due to saltwater intrusion. Normal rainfall should flush out the salt in 1 or 2 years. However, the timing of recovery from saltwater intrusion in Japan is uncertain. In 2008, Burma was able to replant quickly after Typhoon Nargis struck in early May due to normal, beneficial monsoon rains. In contrast, Louisiana’s recoveries from saltwater intrusion (caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike) were hampered and delayed by a lack of rain.

• The damage to roads and bridges will make moving rice to critical areas difficult. This will also hinder moving inputs to farmers in affected areas.

• There may be negative impacts due to consumer safety concerns regarding rice contaminated by radiation. This may result in a premium for rice stored farther away. Consumers may also shift to other foods that are viewed to be safer or require little preparation. Consumer reaction to these concerns is still evolving.

source: usda

Update on the Condition of Japan’s Agriculture Following the Tsunami


MINATO, Japan (March 18, 2011) An aerial view of Minato, Japan, a week after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ethan Johnson/Released) [source: flickr]

The WSJ has reported “the United Nations indicated as many as 60,000 acres of agricultural land in several prefectures were damaged” due to the March 11, 2011 tsunami and 9.0 earthquake. Given they have approximately 19,000 square miles of farmland this is equal to one-half percent of their farmland. The Associated Press estimated that at most 8 percent of Japan’s 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of rice farms might have been affected, or about 4 percent of total rice production. Note that the AP’s 320,000 acre estimate far exceeds the UN estimate.

The major farmland problem is contamination with debris, saltwater, chemicals and toxins, in addition to radiation surrounding the failing nuclear reactors. From previous events in Indonesia and elsewhere, there is hope that the land will recover and grow rice again quite quickly, within one to two years. Rice growth can be somewhat salt tolerant and it will depend how much water will be washing through the soils, varying by location. Some farms expect richer soils following the tsunami.

A few regions were hit more extremely, such as the strawberry growing region of the northeastern coastal city of Yamamoto Town, which lost 80% of its small strawberry farms and many greenhouses. In Miyagi prefecture which includes Sendai, more than 37,000 acres of farmland was covered in seawater and debris, or about 11% of its total farmland.

From the WSJ regarding Sendai, the city nearest the epicenter:

More than 40% of the farmland of the coastal city of Sendai, for instance, has been soaked with salt water, sludge, cars and garbage. The city is still trying to figure out whether the toxic cocktail has ruined the soil of its rice paddies and wheat fields and if they can be cleansed. “There is debris everywhere,” said Tomio Tsuchita, a manager at the agricultural promotion department of the city of Sendai. “Until we start to get rid of that garbage, we cannot even think about using the land again.”

The clearing of the waste and where to put it are major problems for Japan. Government workers must help clean fields of debris using tractors, trains, testing soil, and possibly bringing in new soil and fertilizer to previously rich vegetable growing areas. Flooding fields and rice paddies with water now would help wash out the salt, but there is no water available in some places. Many farmers are older and will just give up. In Miyagi prefecture the average age of the farmer is over 65. This also raises the concern of adequate clean-up manpower.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture has reassured people about an adequate rice supply:

As for rice, its production quantity is equivalent to its demand quantity, and there is fully enough private stock.(Private stock estimate on the end of June, just before the first harvest, is 2 million ton.) In addition to the private stock, government has 1 million ton of rice stock which is available any time. Therefore, Japan has enough rice.

Four major importing facilities and attached feed mills were damaged. They account for around 15 percent of Japan’s total annual compound feed production of 25 million tons. A fifth large mill was damaged but has partially resumed feed production. Initially following the tsunami, minimal animal loss was expected, but the logistics of fuels, feed and product distribution is problematic in some locations.

But, Goldman Sachs raised concerns that the tsunami and nuclear disaster would put 20% of Japan’s meat production at risk including beef, dairy, pig and poultry. Iwate, one of the sites damaged most by the flood, is Japan’s third-biggest prefecture by dairy herd, and a major beef and pork producing center.

The NYTs reported that the Fukushima Prefecture has 70,000 farmers and many were threatened by vegetable and milk bans due to scares of radiation:

Japan depends heavily on foreign suppliers for most food, but up to 80 percent of all vegetables are locally grown. Fukushima’s 70,000 commercial farmers produce more than $2.4 billion worth of spinach, tomatoes, milk and other popular foods a year. The government’s ban on produce sales last week stopped that industry — and those in three adjacent prefectures to the south, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma — in their tracks. Across the region, farmers are dumping millions of gallons of milk and tons of ripe vegetables into pits and streams, unable to sell their products legally on the open market. … “We have no income,” he said, “and the truth is that we don’t want to continue this. All the agriculture is gone. The consumers don’t want to buy products from Fukushima Prefecture, so we can’t sell them. It’s the rumor problem.”

There was supposedly one farmer suicide already, following the bans.

Rice planting is to begin in mid-April in Japan, so soil testing is being done to check for radiation and salt, depending upon the location, prior to planting. Rice production in Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures amounted to 1.22 million metric tons last year, representing 15 percent of the country’s total output.

From BlackSeaGrain:

The government discovered 163,000 becquerel per kilogram of radioactive cesium and 1.17 million becquerel of radioactive iodine in soil in Iitate village, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the plant. The health ministry tentatively set tolerance levels of radioactivity in each food. For grains including rice, the level is set at 500 becquerel per kilogram of cesium and 100 becquerel per kilogram of uranium. Rice may absorb cesium from soil as it grows in paddies for about five months. The ministry must check how much cesium in soil can be transmitted to rice, Yamada said.

Fishing and aquaculture were severely impacted by the tsunami, closing many fishing ports and destroying many fish farms. In Iwate, many aqua farms for abalone, sea urchins, oysters, scallops and seaweed were destroyed, which the local government says accounts for 80 percent of the revenue for local fisheries.


…the Fisheries Agency had received reports of tsunami damage to fish farms in 13 prefectures. Nearly the entire coastline of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures was devastated, and fishermen are struggling to pick up the pieces. In Miyagi Prefecture, farming facilities for “wakame” seaweed, kelp, scallops, oysters and other seafood have been washed out. According to the prefecture’s fishery cooperative, almost no oyster facilities are left. … In Uchiura Bay, which accounts for more than 90% of scallops cultivated in Hokkaido, facilities were almost totally destroyed in some areas. … Wholesale prices of red sea bream and greater amberjack were already rising before the earthquake, due to surging fish feed costs. had this excellent graphic map to explain the aquaculture losses and it is impressive to see how far-reaching the damages were:



To read my earlier reports on how agriculture in Japan might be affected by the earthquake and tsunami, see:

and, also recommended:

Rather ironically, I made this post about the same time the new 7.3 quake hit Japan (today).

K. McDonald