The cultivation of rice able to withstand intense summer heat without losing its taste is growing, with domestic farmers embracing such high-quality varieties as a lucrative source of income.
The production of heat-tolerant varieties of the traditional staple surged about 50 percent from 2009 to 2011.
The best-known brand is Tsuyahime rice, mass production of which started in Yamagata Prefecture in the 2010 crop year. The Tsuyahime variety received the highest grade of “Special A” in taste rankings compiled by the Japan Grain Inspection Association in 2010 and 2011.
The quality of rice grown in paddies usually deteriorates if the average daily temperature reaches 27 degrees for the 20 days after it sprouts ears.
Failure to gain a top-grade quality rating affects prices, hurting farmers’ earnings.
In Yamagata’s Shonai area, one of the nation’s main granaries, the average temperature for the month from mid-August last year stood at 27 to 28 degrees. Even so, 96.2 percent of Tsuyahime rice harvested for the crop year — including that period — received a top rating.
“The high quality (of Tsuyahime) was vindicated again,” a Yamagata Prefectural Government official said.
The prefectures of Miyagi, Shimane, Nagasaki and Oita have also started growing Tsuyahime, while 25 others are considering production.
Meanwhile, Saga Prefecture has developed heat-tolerant Sagabiyori rice.
Full production of the variety started in 2009, after less than 1 percent of the prefecture’s mainstay Hinohikari brand received a first-grade quality evaluation.
“Customer orders are growing after (Sagabiyori) was awarded Special A in the taste rankings for 2010 and 2011,” an official from the Saga Prefectural Government said.
“We hope to boost production in the 2013 crop year.”
According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, heat-tolerant varieties accounted for about 3 percent of the nation’s total rice acreage in 2011, up about 50 percent from 2009.
The increase reflects efforts by farmers to ramp up production of high-priced rice varieties to offset falls in earnings attributed to the government’s policy of curbing rice production.
“The production of rice with a high tolerance for high temperatures is expected to increase further,” said Hideo Maeda, a researcher at the agriculture ministry.