Tokyo, Feb. 13 (Jiji Press)–Prices of rice in Japan are expected to fall for the second consecutive year in 2021 reflecting a drop in consumption and plunging demand from eateries amid the coronavirus crisis.
In addition, rice-producing areas are not planning to cut their output substantially.
The drop in rice prices will be good news for households, but put further strain on farmers.
The agriculture ministry said in November last year that the appropriate production level for 2021 rice crops for eating, set so that supply and demand will be balanced and prices will remain stable, is 6.93 million tons.
The figure is some 360,000 tons lower than harvest levels calculated for 2020 rice on the assumption that the harvest conditions will be average.
The ministry estimate does not take into consideration the effects of the coronavirus crisis, so it could be reduced later.
Meanwhile, the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, or JA-Zenchu, estimated that a total of over 6.96 million tons of rice will be produced in 43 of the country’s 47 prefectures in which related councils drew up production plans by last month, more than the appropriate production level estimated by the ministry.
While major rice-producing prefectures, such as Niigata in central Japan and Akita in northeastern Japan, plan on reducing production, the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and several western prefectures plan to increase rice production.
Many of the prefectures planning to expand production say that their past efforts to reduce production could jeopardize their rice-making foundations.
“We have constantly been reducing” production, a farmer in Hokkaido said. “This is the level that meets demand.”
“Rice farmers and farmland are decreasing, so we want to maintain a minimum level of production capacity,” a farmer from a prefecture in the Kyushu southwestern region said.
The agriculture ministry has earmarked a record 340 billion yen in total in funds for rice policy measures under the government’s fiscal 2020 third supplementary budget and its fiscal 2021 regular budget in order to encourage rice farmers to covert to production of vegetables, wheat and soybeans, as well as rice for processing.
But farmers have been slow to react. An official of an agricultural industry body complained, “Criteria for receiving related subsidies are strict, and we aren’t sure if the produce made instead of rice will sell well as the coronavirus crisis continues.”
The government terminated its traditional “gentan” rice production adjustment policy in the 2018 harvest year, allowing farmers to plant rice as much as they like based on their own decisions. As a result, many farmers began increasing their output.
Although bad harvests in 2018 and 2019 saved rice from oversupply, the 2020 harvest was relatively positive, leading to the first drop in rice prices in six years.