AKITA — Masakazu Miyakawa, 38, a resident of the village of Ogata in Akita Prefecture, sat in his flower seedling greenhouse one April night three years ago, worrying about his farm.
The idea that he should give up growing rice was on his mind. Rice and flowers are not compatible, he thought, because both crops need maximum attention at about the same time of the year.
His idea was that if he stopped growing rice and devoted himself solely to planting flowers, everything would be all right.
Several days later he gave away 600 kg of seed rice, which was sitting in water awaiting planting, and gave up growing rice for good.
The village of Ogata, a lagoon-turned-landfill, emerged in 1964 as a model farming site for large-scale agriculture. Miyakawa’s late father, Masaharu, settled in the village, located in the western part of the prefecture, and began farming there.
As eldest son, Miyakawa returned home upon completing his university studies in 1985 to help his parents work the land.
The Uruguay Round of free trade talks on farming in 1993 paved the way for Japan to partially open its doors to foreign rice. This led Miyakawa to decide it was time to change things. He decided to rethink the way he farmed.
In the spring of 1994, he set up an agricultural corporation dedicated to tilling the soil. He then had to decide whether to continue planting rice.
Unable to expand the scale of his farming in the absence of any suitable land for sale, Miyakawa knew there was no future in rice farming.
His decision in 1998 to give up rice was the end to a chapter of his family’s history.
People around him were against the idea. Although his 58-year-old mother, Mutsu, said nothing, she also felt apprehensive about the family’s departure from rice farming.
But low rice prices made the decision for him. The government’s purchasing price for rice continued to fall — from 18,000 yen per 60 kg in 1986 to 17,000 yen per 60 kg in 1999.
When Miyakawa discovered that he could lease farmland in a neighboring town, he staked his living on the possibility of growing food on farms using incentive payments for land conversion as investment funds.
At present, he alternatively cultivates barley and beans on 13 hectares of land. He uses an additional 3 hectares to grow potatoes and 2 hectares to grow pumpkins.
He is also growing flower seedlings in a 6,600-sq.-meter greenhouse.
Miyakawa likens the satisfaction of cultivating farm products to the pleasure that comes from creative pursuits such as drawing pictures and making music.
Miyakawa’s corporation earns about 50 million yen a year, including 20 percent in incentive payments.
No longer able to receive the same incentive payments, Miyakawa plans to cover cutbacks in revenue with large-scale vegetable cultivation.
Miyakawa imagines himself working in a field filled with vegetables on a big farm but said, “I don’t know how long it will take to realize such a dream.”
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