Using my experience and research to support and encourage aspiring farmers
Professor Kazuhiko Imakawa has a very interesting background: after graduating from college and taking over the family farm, he travelled on his own to the United States and worked as an actual cowboy to gain experience in cattle husbandry. His current research focuses on raising pregnancy rates in cows, and he works to tie his scholarly findings to the stable development of livestock farming while also helping train agricultural workers.
Interviewer: Masayoshi Nakane
Question: Your family were rice farmers; you studied animal sciences at college and then inherited the family farm.
Answer: I debated whether to enter the faculty of agriculture or veterinary medicine. At the time, we had around four hectares of rice paddies and kept beef cattle for breeding and fattening. I considered becoming a veterinarian, but I thought I was more suited to animal production. so I entered the faculty of agriculture’s department of animal husbandry.
After graduating, I returned home because my father got injured and they needed the immediate help, and I took over the farm’s operations. For a year after returning, I cultivated rice and raised beef cattle, but I came to realize I needed a better grounding in agricultural management, so applied for a Japanese agricultural training program and went to America.
Q: After the training program, you enrolled at a graduate school in the United States.
A: I observed the cattle closely during my training on a ranch and I learned how to distinguish cattle in estrus and the conditions conducive to pregnancy. Based on this, I recommended certain breeding methods to the rancher. I wrote up the results in a report and it caught the eye of a researcher at the University of Nebraska where we studied animal husbandry as a part of the training. From there I enrolled at graduate school.
In the master’s and doctorate degree program at the graduate school, I measured hormones related to the estrus cycle and published 18 papers before finishing my doctorate. This was a school record. I then went back to Japan, but I decided I wanted to work in the field of reproductive physiology, so I went back to America and continued my studies at the University of Missouri. Thanks to numerous discoveries and published papers, I was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. I stayed in America for 18 years, and in my last eight years there I had a lab in the School of Medicine, where my research primarily focused on mammalian reproduction.
Q: You specialize in raising the pregnancy/implantation rates of cows. Is your research applicable to human beings as well?
A: Implantation processes in humans and cows is basically the same. The success rate of reproductive medicine/assisted reproductive technology for humans is around 25%, fairly low compared to cows, which is around 50%. This means insufficient intrauterine environment, which is not the sperm or the egg or the fertilized egg but includes what receives them, must be in good condition as well.
Raising pregnancy/conception rates is not limited to cows; it is related to all mammals. Reproduction is a life activity that is only possible when all the relevant conditions are met. If there is something wrong with the barn or the feed or the water or the footing or anything, if the electricity goes out, for example, in a natural disaster, it causes stress that hinders reproduction. Human beings, too, in modern society, live with too much stress. There is a lack of daycare and improvements are needed in working conditions; improving the living environment is an important factor.
Q: Japan’s farm population continues to age. Your research is connected to the promotion of agriculture and regional revitalization.
A: When the conception rate for cattle falls by 10%, it represents a loss of 5.0 billion yen. So the conception rate needs to be raised. I want to strengthen the production infrastructure for cattle and make it possible to train the next generation of farmers. Agricultural and livestock farmers that are successful now have in common the fact that they are independent; they do not depends on funds from JA or the government. I want to provide as much support and encouragement for people of this nature.
Professor, Research Institute of Agriculture
Born in 1952 in Tajiri-cho, Miyagi Prefecture (now Osaki City). Graduated from Ibaraki University’s Faculty of Agriculture. Completed Ph.D. program at the University of Nebraska Graduate School in the United States. Served as assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Appointed to current position in April 2018. Enjoys mountain climbing and baseball.