Hello! - from a not so Japanese newbie with a few questions about starting farming

Finding land, working a small plot or anything else countryside related
LOAF
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun May 02, 2021 8:14 pm
Has thanked: 13 times
Been thanked: 7 times

Hello! - from a not so Japanese newbie with a few questions about starting farming

Post by LOAF »

Hi All,

Firstly, I’m impressed with the wealth of info and networking in this forum, and Inam grateful to be able to be part of it.

I’ve moved back to Japan recently, and have been living most of my life in Australia. My husband and I dream of what most people would know as living ‘Jikyuu Jisoku’. So we are getting a little bit of work experience in a variety of farming method such as Hydroponic and soil (making spring onions, leafy greens and strawberries) at a friend’s farm, but we would like to start out small and do some microgreens and organic farming.

I have so many questions about organic farming that I don’t even know where to start... These questions I ask might have obvious answers to many, but can I ask,

“Is it true that you cannot have organic produce from hydroponics?”

“If you grow your produce near farmlands that does not produce organically, you cannot be organic?”

“Is organic produce highly prized by the general public in Japan or do you have to find your own niche market or sell online like ‘Tabechoku’. And is your medium you use constantly the same or do you have to change frequently?”

I hope I can make some contributions here as well soon :)

Thanks in advance :)

User avatar
Zasso Nouka
Tech Support
Tech Support
Posts: 3721
Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:37 am
Location: Chiba Prefecture
Has thanked: 3031 times
Been thanked: 2511 times

Hello! - from a not so Japanese newbie

Post by Zasso Nouka »

I'll try to answer a few of your questions from our perspective and some of that may or may not apply to your situation but like any good conversation it can unfold from there and also others may have differing inputs or points of view that may be more closely aligned with your situation.

One major point, you can't call any produce organic unless you are JAS certified, legally you are not even allowed to say it's pesticide free. People do but technically you are contravening the agricultural laws if you do that and could run into problems later on. What you say to customers by word of mouth is entirely your own affair but I would be hesitant to put anything into writing that may get you into trouble later on.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 2:02 am
“Is it true that you cannot have organic produce from hydroponics?”
Outside of Japan you can get organic hydroponic nutrients, so far inside of Japan I haven't seen any. That's not to say they don't exist but now it may be a bit of a niche market. You can get organic liquid fertiliser and we use one made from the waste products in the katsuobushi industry but we use it in drip lines in our poly tunnels, in hydroponics your main problem using that would biofilm buildups and the truly awful smell it gives off.

You could go down the aquaponics route and that can be totally organic.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 2:02 am
“If you grow your produce near farmlands that does not produce organically, you cannot be organic?”
Well, this is one of those wonderful grey areas Japan seems to excel at. Technically yes you can and you can even get a JAS certificate saying your produce is organic but if it's a windy day when your neighbours are spraying then I personally wouldn't call that produce organic.

We know several organic farmers who are surrounded by non organic farms and they have no insect problems at all. Most likely because any insects heading to their vegetables stop off on their way there for a quick bite of some of the tasty looking freshly sprayed crops and die or their crops got hit by some drift when the neighbours were spraying and have just enough pesticide residue to control insect populations but as they personally didn't spray their crops that's good enough for JAS. JAS will allow you to use highly toxic pesticides and even totally sterilise your soil between crops but to my mind that doesn't seem to be organic.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 2:02 am
“Is organic produce highly prized by the general public in Japan or do you have to find your own niche market or sell online like ‘Tabechoku’. And is your medium you use constantly the same or do you have to change frequently?”
There is a market for organic produce but it's much smaller than other countries. One thing that hurts that I feel is that many organic growers are almost extremists and they end up turning off ordinary people. Back in the UK it seemed to me that organic farms were just another type of farm and nothing really different, they just happened to choose a different growing style. Making potential customers feel bad about their buying choices doesn't seem like a good idea to me, which might be why permaculture and some of the more extreme organic growers seem condemned to remain a very small niche which is a real shame as permaculture has a lot to offer to the organic farmer but they've managed to put the general public off.

We don't specifically pitch ourselves at the organic market as we aren't JAS certified and instead explain our growing styles to potential customers and say we aim to produce tasty vegetables that are gown slowly and harvested in season and in time with their own growing schedules. It helps that most of our vegetables are sold through Takashimaya Farm, which is the organic part of Takashimaya department stores and through some other small boutique Tokyo greengrocers where customers expect produce to be organic and we've also cultivated close relationships with local and Tokyo based chefs who value good produce over cheaper vegetables.

LOAF
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun May 02, 2021 8:14 pm
Has thanked: 13 times
Been thanked: 7 times

Hello! - from a not so Japanese newbie

Post by LOAF »

Thanks again Zasso Nouka for answering my questions.

We are currently working at this farm for another 3 months to learn to his method of cultivating Negi and spinach in Ishigaki region. The farmer I work for rec we start up in Ishigaki as there is a good potential. Whilst Ishigaki sounds like an amazing place to live, I have my reservations to move there (without viewing the place and potential, but also climate wise- salty water damage, typhoons) so we are doing our own research and hopefully view some Akiyabanks in Kansai region. Hopefully we will stumble to a nice old kominka with 農地.

Yes I have heard about JAS certification. It sounds like obtaining this certification requires alot of effort and regulation requirements. It is interesting to hear ‘Yuuki saibai’ used alot in my area but notice not many mention about JAS certification.

Certainly the method of sustainable growing would be a important selling point. How did you start your farm business in Japan? We want to buy an Akiya with nouchi. As I believe that will solve two things in one. Have it come as a set. I understand we need to apply for it at the nougyou iinkai in the area your want to live.. If my I understanding is correct, that depends on the size of nouchi right?
I heard you talk about the different type of land “forest” used for farming, and that it is cheaper land tax. Wouldn’t it take a while to fertilise the land? Do you have experience with that too?

We would also like to get into sustainable growing practise, have a simple kominka lifestyle whilst working alongside the community and befriend people who can support one another, and throwing in own ideas and be creative from time to time! Still a long way to go, but the thought excites us! :)

User avatar
Zasso Nouka
Tech Support
Tech Support
Posts: 3721
Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:37 am
Location: Chiba Prefecture
Has thanked: 3031 times
Been thanked: 2511 times

Hello! - from a not so Japanese newbie with a few questions about starting farming

Post by Zasso Nouka »

Hope you don't mind but I've moved your thread into the "Country Life Forum" and added a bit to the title to reflect the direction the conversation is moving in. If you prefer I can move it back to the new members section.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 3:49 pm
Certainly the method of sustainable growing would be a important selling point. How did you start your farm business in Japan?
Let me run through the process we used when deciding where to settle. Firstly we had to decide what type of farming we wanted to do, ie confining ourselves to one or two crops or be more generalist farmers. You are learning how to grow negi and growing purely that commercially could give you a nice steady income and let you branch out later or just grow negi for sale and have a small organic plot for your own vegetables. We chose to be more generalist in our commercial growing but that requires a lot more work than growing a limited range.

Next we had to decide who our customers would likely be, where they lived and how we wanted to sell to them. We wanted a face to face relationship and that has worked quite well for us as we now have a good sized group of loyal customers that buy from us regularly but it's meant we had to live within easy travelling distance of them. Or you could go down the internet route and then you can live anywhere there is a Kuro Neko office.

Next we had to decide what kind of climate we wanted, ie up in the mountains with great scenery but a more limited growing season or somewhere that offered all year growing.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 3:49 pm
Yes I have heard about JAS certification. It sounds like obtaining this certification requires alot of effort and regulation requirements. It is interesting to hear ‘Yuuki saibai’ used alot in my area but notice not many mention about JAS certification.
JAS certification is incredibly expensive, eye wateringly so and to my mind allows some practices that seem contrary to organic principles like allowing pesticides between crops and sterilising soil between plantings. Yuuki saibai is another of those wonderful grey areas, you aren't supposed to say it but many people do and customers understand it means your veg is organic without having a JAS certificate, just don't use it on any publicity material or on a website if you have one.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 3:49 pm
We want to buy an Akiya with nouchi. As I believe that will solve two things in one. Have it come as a set. I understand we need to apply for it at the nougyou iinkai in the area your want to live.. If my I understanding is correct, that depends on the size of nouchi right?
I heard you talk about the different type of land “forest” used for farming, and that it is cheaper land tax. Wouldn’t it take a while to fertilise the land? Do you have experience with that too?
Technically to own farmland you need to be a registered farmer, registering can be easy or complex. In our city you buy or rent 1,500 tsubo of land and you are automatically entered onto the register of farmers at the Nougyou Inkai. However other municipalities can be completely different ranging from being positively encouraging to downright refusing to let newcomers become farmers or purchase farm land. It's almost like some places would rather see the community die out than let new folk in. You will need to talk to the agricultural department and Nougyou Inkai in any areas you are interested in. Also look out for exhibitions that have stalls with municipalities looking to attract new people, Nougyou World Expo in Tokyo and Osaka often has booths for cities looking to encourage newcomers into farming in their area but there are others as well.

Tax on Sanrin is somewhat cheaper in our city but not by a significant amount, other cities may vary. A lot of the hatake in our village is actually sanrin rather than farmland with the tanbo designated as Nouchi and I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because most of the farming families primarily grow rice rather than vegetables.

You can get sanrin fertile pretty quickly with lots of properly composted manure, start with cow manure that has been composted for around a year and then start adding chicken (egg layers) manure later for added minerals and phosphorous. You can generally get it for free if the farmer will lend you their dump truck and you do the driving.
LOAF wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 3:49 pm
We would also like to get into sustainable growing practise, have a simple kominka lifestyle whilst working alongside the community and befriend people who can support one another, and throwing in own ideas and be creative from time to time! Still a long way to go, but the thought excites us! :)
It can be a very nice lifestyle if you can make it work for you and find a location with a friendly community. I love the little festivals our village has and the community BBQ in the summer. It's great when a neighbour drops by for a chat and has a load of vegetables they've just harvested or when we wander down to the tanbo on a summer night and watch the fireflies gliding over the rice or watch the fireworks in the town next door with all the families sitting on the river bank.