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Ukraine crisis exacerbates fertilizer woes for Japan farms

  • May 25, 2022
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 7:10 a.m.
  • English Press

By SHO HATSUMI/ Staff Writer

 

Japan’s agriculture industry has found itself pretty much powerless to do anything except wait for the worst as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is sending already-rising fertilizer prices through the roof.

 

Japan imports most of the materials for chemical fertilizers. Twenty to 30 percent of Japan’s imports of potassium chloride, a key ingredient in chemical fertilizers, have come from Russia or Belarus.

 

But imports from the two countries have effectively been halted since March because of economic sanctions slapped on the two countries.

 

The National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations, known as Zen-Noh, is trying to fill the gap by importing more potassium chloridefrom Canada, its largest exporter.

 

However, prices have been soaring because other importing countries are also trying to secure the ingredient from Canada.

 

“The biggest challenge will be to secure a necessary amount of these materials before fall, when demand for them will increase,” said an official of a general trading company.

 

When the government announced an emergency package on April 26 to tackle rising prices, it said it would “support diversifying sourcing countries” of chemical fertilizer materials.

 

However, doing so is not easy.

 

The materials are derived from natural ore, which is found only in certain regions of the world. Agriculture industries have no choice but to depend on specific countries to feed their crops.

 

Prices were already rising last year as global demand grew for chemical fertilizers.

 

They rose further after China tightened controls on its exports of fertilizers in October last year, leading to a worldwide shortage. China is a big producer of ammonium phosphate, another major ingredient in chemical fertilizers.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated the situation.

 

And Japan’s emergency support package for rising prices focuses only on providing grants to cover increased transport costs from successful sourcing diversification.

 

“For the medium or long term, we need to prepare for the possibility that we’ll be unable to import any chemical fertilizer materials,” a senior official of the farm ministry warned.

 

According to the agricultural price index published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on April 27, the retail price of chemical fertilizers as of March was up 11.7 percent year on year.

 

Zen-Noh has increased fertilizer prices three times since June last year, and another significant hike is expected in June.

 

Go Hashimoto, chief of farming operations at Saikontan Noen in Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture, is one of the farmers suffering from price hikes fueled by the crisis in Ukraine.

 

The company grows crops such as baby leaves and Japanese yams on its 50-hectare farm and sells them to supermarkets and restaurants.

 

“My supplier said that it will double the prices of chemical fertilizers in June. I now need to reconsider how much of them I use,” Hashimoto said.

 

The price rises will have a significant impact on the farm, where fertilizers account for 10 to 15 percent of production costs.

 

If he reduces his use of chemical fertilizers, he will need more organic fertilizers, such as compost. However, organic fertilizers are more time and labor intensive to produce and use, and they work differently than the chemical ones.

 

“Other costs, such as those for pesticides or fuel, have risen, too, but it’s hard to raise prices of my crops,” Hashimoto said.

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