Posts Tagged ‘new rice’

Rice is nice when the price is right

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Early birds: Harvesting rice crop in northern Chiba prefecture in September

Early birds: Harvesting rice crop in northern Chiba Prefecture in September

The main rallying cry of those opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotations, such as JA (National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations), is that Japan can no long feed itself with the food it produces, since its self-sufficiency rate is a meager 39 percent. But as attorney Colin P.A. Jones recently pointed out in his Japan Times “Law of the Land” column, this figure is misleading since it measures food consumed in calories.

In terms of production, Japan’s self-sufficiency rate is 65 percent. Moreover, in terms of total volume of food produced, Japan is fifth in the world. The point is, Japan produces plenty of food for itself, and it also imports lots of food. It is a wealthy country by any measure. However, its agricultural sector is lopsided in that it doesn’t produce food in a way that matches demand.

Rice is the culprit. Even without American threatening their livelihood with shiploads at the ready of cheap short-grained rice, farmers in Japan are already seeing prices drop precipitously. There is just too much rice being produced, despite the fact that the government still pays farmers not to produce so much.

According to Tokyo Shimbun the problem started in 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake destroyed much of the crop in the Tohoku region, a major rice-producing region. Consequently, rice stocks became low and the price skyrocketed. This situation lasted through the 2012 harvest. As a result, restaurants and prepared food makers cut back on the amount of rice they used. But by the middle of 2013, stocks of rice had increased to the point of a surplus, and a bumper crop was produced in the fall. But demand didn’t follow suit and the surplus grew considerably. Again, the situation remained unchanged and the price has been dropping steadily since then to the point where it’s lower than it was before the earthquake.

CONTINUE READING about domestic vs. foreign rice →

Rice market turned upside down by radiation fears

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Japan’s rice harvest season started at the end of August, and is presently centered on the Tohoku region; or, at least it would be centered there if so much of the crop hadn’t been neutralized by the Mar. 11 tsunami and then what was left wasn’t contaminated by fallout from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor. Japanese people prize rice grown in the northeastern part of the country more than rice grown anywhere else, and they prefer new rice (shinmai), the newer the better. This is a cultural thing, since in some countries — India and Italy, for instance — older rice is considered something of a delicacy.

What's new? Shinmai from Chiba Prefecture

The earthquake and tsunami hit at around the time of planting, which means a lot of rice didn’t make it into the ground and that which did may have been irradiated. Supposedly, the government checked much of the rice grown in the region when it was immature and decided it was safe, but a lot of people are far from being reassured by such announcements. On Sept. 23, for instance, the government of Fukushima Prefecture said it detected cesium above allowable levels in rice from Nihonmatsu. With more rain and the resultant seepage into soil, the numbers are always changing. Beef from the region became suspect after it was found that the cattle may have eaten irradiated rice straw. All of this has become a familiar pattern: The authorities say there’s no problem only to reveal later something that seems to indicate there is a problem. People react accordingly.

Consequently, the market for rice has been knocked on its head. New rice from the Tohoku region, usually flying off shelves at this time of the year, is being avoided, while old rice from last year’s stocks are in high demand. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, 6 kilograms of 2010 Akita Komachi, a highly valued strain, was selling for ¥12,000 wholesale last January. Now, the same rice from the same harvest is going for ¥20,000. That’s never happened before. Last week, we received a postcard from the consumer food cooperative Daichi saying that they no longer had any 2010 rice in stock. This situation has revived the rice trade, wherein rice futures are traded like stocks, something that hasn’t taken place since before the war when the government started overseeing rice distribution. Moreover, since so many wholesalers sell blends of rice from different regions but don’t necessarily specify which regions on the packaging, people are avoiding cheaper blends that may, in fact, contain no rice from Fukushima Prefecture or even the Tohoku Region. People are even demanding rice grown in the western part of Japan, which is usually scorned as being less flavorful. Normally it isn’t even sold in eastern Japan.

This may be good news for foreign rice, which is only imported because of world trade obligations. Most imported rice is used for processed foods or simply ends up gathering mold in warehouses. What may be gathering mold in warehouses a year from now is rice from the 2011 harvest, which is expected to be a record surplus. According to Bloomberg, this year’s harvest will be in excess of 10 million tons. As of the end of June, there was 3.24 million tons in storage left over from last year’s harvest, most of which will probably be gone before long.

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