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Shizuoka firm producing tea leaves, solar power to tackle farmers' decline

Ryutsu Service Co. CEO Yoshiaki Hattori is seen standing in a tea field with solar panels covering the crops, in Kikugawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Aug. 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

KIKUGAWA, Shizuoka -- A company producing and selling tea is making an effort to generate solar power here using equipment for growing leaves for "matcha" green tea powder in an effort to tackle the declining number of farmers.

Ryutsu Service Co. has a vision to eventually create a fully automated tea plantation that can be managed remotely using the "Chabatake Solar" system, which means a "photovoltaic tea garden."

Ryutsu Service CEO Yoshiaki Hattori, 56, checked on the growth of tea leaves at a plantation in Kikugawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, in central Japan, at the beginning of August. Countless solar panels were set up above the fields that were once deserted.

Farms that have abandoned tea production due to a lack of successors are noticeable even in this city, one of the foremost tea-growing regions in Japan. Meanwhile, green tea leaf exports reached a record high of about 14.36 billion yen last year.

"Tencha," the tea leaves used to make matcha powder, have to be covered for a certain period of time during cultivation, and it is common practice to hook shading nets onto poles that stand several meters above the fields. Seeing this, Hattori came up with an idea to lay solar panels on top of the poles and framework shading the crops to generate power.

The panels barely function as a cover for the tea leaves, but the farmers can collect income by selling the solar energy. Hattori hopes that the income can be used to plant tea varieties for making matcha instead of those for "sencha," or steeped green tea, which makes up a large part of the tea leaves grown in the city.

"There haven't been any (negative) effects on the tea leaves for now, and in fact, I have a feeling that the quality of the tea leaves is improving," he said.

Hattori indicated that he plans to pursue a new method of farming, creating an Internet of Things (IoT) network, including the Chabatake Solar system, to enable device interoperability and data exchange. One such fusion is to use the solar power system to run an automatic watering device.

Hattori stated, "Although tea-drinking is a worldwide trend, the number of farmers is still decreasing. I want to attract future farmers through 'dream-inspiring agriculture.'"

(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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