The number of Japan’s agriculture workers has fallen some 60 percent over the past quarter of a century to below 2 million in 2016, the lowest on record since the government began keeping records, according to a recent survey.
The data show the government’s effort to increase the number of young farmers has yet to bear fruit while aged agriculture workers continue to leave the profession.
The decline in farmers also comes at a time of heightened concern in the industry over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which is expected increase competition, and the government’s plan to abolish its policy of limiting rice production and to phase out related subsidies by 2018.
The survey compiled by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed the number of agriculture workers fell to 1.92 million as of Feb. 1, down 8.3 percent from a year earlier. Japan had more than 7 million farmers in the mid-1970s, a figure that fell to 4.82 million in 1990 and to below 3 million in 2008.
The number of farmers dropped in all age brackets, except for those aged 65 to 69, which increased 6.2 percent with retirees entering the field.
Farmers aged 70 or older account for about a half of Japan’s total agriculture workers, yet the number aged 70 to 74 tumbled 12.5 percent to 280,700, while those 75 or older fell 8.8 percent to 604,800.