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Japanese farmers struggle as pandemic creates huge vegetable oversupply, tumbling prices

A mound of daikon radishes thrown out due to oversupply issues before they could be sent to market is seen at the Miura Biomass Center in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Dec. 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

MIURA, Kanagawa -- Japan's third wave of coronavirus infections has subdued traditional end-of-year activities, with eateries being called to reduce their operating hours and refrain from holding year-end parties.

    With consumption down, prices for farm produce have tumbled due to oversupply, and the effects of the pandemic are being felt by those in the primary sector, too. To find out more, the Mainichi Shimbun went to one of Japan's foremost regions for daikon radish farming: the Miura Peninsula, located southeast of Tokyo.

    At the Miura Biomass Center, in the city of Miura in Kanagawa Prefecture, disposed produce from farms in the local area is brought for turning into fertilizer. There, mountains upon mountains of radishes are piled waiting their turn.

    A farmer is seen dealing with daikon radishes set for disposal after their shipment to market was halted, in the city of Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Dec. 10, 2020. (Maincihi/Kaho Kitayama)

    Some 395 metric tons of produce was brought into the center in November, dwarfing the approximately 220 metric tons recorded in the same month in 2019. Shigeo Kato, managing director at the center, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "At this rate, December looks like it's going to reach close to 1,000 tons. Even with our employees working overtime until 9 p.m. every day, we just end up with a mountain of around the same size the next day."

    The large-scale dumping of radish stocks is closely related to falling prices of vegetables in general. A survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries held between Dec. 7 and 9 on 470 shops nationwide found steep falls; daikon radishes were down to 73% of their average price in a normal year, napa cabbage had fallen to 65%, and lettuce was down 50%.

    The falling prices are being attributed to the effects of favorable weather in the autumn and a fall in demand due to people refraining from eating out as a result of infections spreading. This situation has spurred the current oversupply.

    Kiyoshi Hasegawa, a 48-year-old farmer in Miura who has cultivated radishes for around 30 years sighed and said, "I'm what they sometimes call a pauper with a bountiful harvest. I've never seen prices this low before." The daikons he's throwing out are all good-tasting products. In a normal year, even damaged or bent, precut vegetables would go to market, but this time it's different.

    "This year we can't shift them out, and even if we do there are so many daikons it doesn't make business sense to. There's not much we can do about the increasing amount of dumped daikons," he said, adding, "I don't want to get rid of them if I can help it. I'm trying to come up with ideas to sell them somehow, or make processed products." He said he's trying as much as possible through trial and error to find new ways to use them.

    (Japanese original by Kaho Kitayama, Photo Group)

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