When Hirokazu Kiuchi proposed six years ago that a farmers' marketing cooperative in Katori, Chiba Prefecture, start processing frozen spinach, he knew he was in for a fight.

"We'll just lose money," one farmer groused.

They had good reason to be wary. After all, they would be competing against imports from China, where labor costs are so low major enterprises use workers to wash produce and check for and remove foreign objects.