Certain struggles cause strawberry packs to slim down

The Yomiuri Shimbun
This photo taken on Dec. 13 in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture shows a recent pack of strawberries, right, with a slight content reduction from previous seasons. The bottom of the packaging on the right is narrower than that used up until last year, seen on the left.

Packages of bright red, shiny strawberries have hit supermarket and grocery store shelves just in time for the holiday season.

Even so, strawberry production has been on the decline in recent years. Issues, including the advancing age of farmers, have forced a growing number of producers to reduce the number of strawberries per package sold this year.

“As I get older, the time-consuming task of fumigating and watering large swathes of strawberry seedlings becomes increasingly demanding. To ease that burden, I cut my crop size by 20%,” said Katsunori Obayashi, 56, grower of the Akihime brand of strawberries based in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture.

According to JA Aichi Keizairen, a local agricultural co-op, about 6,800 tons of strawberries were shipped from the prefecture in 2010. From that year on, however, shipments have been on the decline, with last year’s total reaching only about 6,000 tons. This decline is said to stem from a growing number of strawberry farmers like Obayashi who have reduced the area of their crops.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Since October, about 530 Aichi strawberry producers have reduced the weight of individual packs of strawberries from 270 to 250 grams, which allows them to meet the usual quantity supply quotas. The weight reduction has been achieved through the use of packaging with narrower bottoms than the ones used last season. This method results in either one fewer large strawberries or two fewer small ones per package.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, national strawberry production in 2020 stood at 159,200 – a 10% drop from a decade prior. As with other agricultural sectors, factors such as the ever-advancing age of farmers and a lack of successors are at the root of this issue. Rising crude oil prices have put further strain on the industry as heating costs for greenhouses have also increased, driving farmers into a tight situation.

Tochigi Prefecture, the nation’s top strawberry-producing prefecture, is also feeling the strain.

JA Zen-Noh Tochigi, a prefectural agricultural co-op, has also reduced individual package weight by 20 grams since this autumn.

The size of crops at JA member farms allocated toward the Tochiotome brand of strawberry has dropped 8% from the previous season, which is expected to reduce shipments by about 1,000 tons this season.

Kumamoto Prefecture’s JA Kumamoto Keizairen and Nagasaki Prefecture’s JA Zen-Noh Nagasaki have also reduced pack weight by 20 grams. JA Shizuoka Keizairen in Shizuoka Prefecture is expected to make a similar move from this upcoming February.

Despite the reduction in the number of strawberries in each package, the price of each individual strawberry has increased, which leads to there being no noticeable change in market prices, according to Tokyo Seika Co., a leading fruit and vegetable wholesale company in Tokyo.

Tamuracho Kimuraya, a confectionery in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, has raised the price of its Christmas cakes by ¥200 this year. Hiroshi Otsuka, 56, president of the confectionery, said, “We need to procure more strawberry packs than last year. Since the price of other ingredients has also risen because of the rising cost of crude oil, it was inevitable.”