Japan to support domestic potato production after poor harvest

JIJI

The agriculture ministry will help domestic potato farmers increase production following a shortage due to bad weather that has adversely affected potato chip makers, sources said Tuesday.

The potato crop was poor, particularly in Hokkaido Prefecture, last year due to typhoons, forcing major domestic snack makers Calbee Inc. and Koike-Ya Inc. to halt sales of some products from spring this year to September.

Some 80 percent of potatoes for chips are grown in Hokkaido.

The ministry has included ¥3 billion for related costs in its budget request for fiscal 2018, the sources said.

To help Hokkaido farmers produce enough potatoes to supply processors, the ministry plans to shoulder half of the farmers’ costs for introducing large harvesting machines and potato varieties that are resistant to diseases and pests, the sources said. The ministry will also back efforts to boost production of seed potatoes, according to the sources.

“We’d like to avoid potato supply shortage when we face bad weather again,” a ministry official said.

In fiscal 2015, domestic potato production totaled some 2.4 million tons, showing a decline of 10 percent from a decade earlier.

Behind the continued output drop are difficulties in growing the crop due to its vulnerability to diseases and pests, small profit margins and the aging of producers.

On the other hand, the shipment of potatoes used for potato chips has grown more than 30 percent in the past 10 years.

Since Japan has severely restricted potato imports to prevent the invasion of diseases and pests, the switch to foreign potatoes cannot easily be made when a shortage in domestic potatoes occurs.