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Rains cause lettuce price to spike from 60 to 300 yen per kilo in Japan's lettuce capital

Lettuce that would go for about 88 yen to 98 yen ($0.84 to $0.94) per head in an average year is more than twice that price this year, as seen in this photo taken at Hatake no Maruhide supermarket's Yachiho branch in the Nagano Prefecture town of Sakuho, on July 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Mari Sakane)

NAGANO -- Due to long rains and a lack of sunshine, the price of lettuce here in the lettuce capital of Japan has increased fivefold in just two weeks from mid- to late July, troubling both producers and consumers.

    According to Nagano, central Japan-based wholesale produce distributor Chojirushi, the wholesale price of lettuce was down to about 60 yen ($0.57) per kilogram up until the beginning of July, partially due to decreased demand as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak. But because of poor weather conditions starting in late June, the price of lettuce shot up to 300 yen ($2.87) per kilogram as of mid-July.

    "In a single burst, we went from a low price that required production adjustment to a price that makes it difficult for consumers to buy the product," said an executive at Chojirushi. As for the future, he said, "It looks like prices will stay high until around the Bon holiday period (in mid-August). With the novel coronavirus this year, the prospects are unclear. And from both a demand and supply standpoint, it's hard to pinpoint price trends."

    For lettuce producers, the high prices are another hardship that has befallen them following the novel coronavirus outbreak. Ben Takamizawa of Ben Farm in Kawakami, another major lettuce-producing village in the prefecture, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Rain is lettuce's natural enemy and the source of disease. I don't recall being cursed by such a long period of rain in recent years."

    A lettuce patch in the Nagano Prefecture village of Minamimaki, one of Japan's top lettuce-producing regions, is seen here on July 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Mari Sakane)

    In early spring, the foreign interns that were supposed to come to Japan on the government's Technical Intern Training Program and help out with the harvest were unable to do so due to the pandemic. It was shortly after Takamizawa finally managed to arrange for labor support from nearby companies that the interminable rains began. Most of the lettuce at Ben Farm did not grow to regulation size, forcing Ben Farm to sell them at a lower price. Now is peak harvest season, but the amount available to pick has gone down by about 30% compared to the average year.

    "We've been dealt a double whammy," Takamizawa said. "The effects will probably linger for about two weeks even after the weather improves, which is a shame because this is when lettuce is the most delicious."

    At Delicia, a local supermarket in the prefectural city of Matsumoto, the prices not only of lettuce, but of vegetables in general, including carrots and potatoes, have shot up. The company has made efforts to keep retail prices down, and is trying out different ways -- like selling vegetables in small amounts -- to make it easier for consumers to buy them. "It's hard on us in terms of sales, but we hope to continue our efforts to benefit consumers," a Delicia representative said.

    At supermarket Maruhide's Yachiho branch in the prefectural town of Sakuho, an official said, "In normal years, lettuce is about 88 yen to 98 yen ($0.84 to $0.94), but since about 10 days ago, the prices have shot up. Consumers have it hard, but so do the farmers."

    According to the Nagano Local Meteorological Office, the lack of sunlight began around June 25, and in the approximately one month up to July 21, the sunlight hours measured at many monitoring points around the prefecture were about 50% of that in an average year. The meteorological office says sunlight hours will be short and rain plentiful until early August, and urges farmers to take precautions.

    (Japanese original by Tomokazu Komaki, Tokyo Regional News Department, and Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

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