Record-breaking Japan Heat Wave Impacts Rice Quality, Raises Veg Prices

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenichi Miyauchi looks across his rice fields in Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, on Thursday.

The recent record-breaking heat wave has dealt a heavy blow to farmers, driving down the quality of rice crops — and, in some cases, causing crop failures — while pushing up prices for vegetables and other products.

“I can’t continue growing rice if things continue like this,” said one farmer.

Experts have stressed the urgent necessity to develop crops that are more resistant to summer heat.

“I‘ve been growing rice for 50 years, but I’ve never experienced a year like this,” said Kenichi Miyauchi, 72, of Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture.

Miyauchi, who produces “Uonuma Koshihikari” among other notable rice varieties, has had to suspend his harvesting plans due to poor crops this year.

In August, Niigata Prefecture suffered a record-breaking heat wave, with 27 of 28 monitored locations logging unprecedented temperatures.

Some of Miyauchi’s rice fields have dried up completely. His harvests have included many low-quality “cloudy” grains, and “top-grade rice” — which usually accounts for 90% of shipments from his farm — has been scarce.

“Production costs, including fertilizer prices, continue to rise,” Miyauchi lamented. “This year’s harvest will drive me into the red. If things continue this way, I won’t be able to farm anymore.”

A Niigata Prefecture survey found that only 3% of the prefecture’s September-harvested Koshihikari rice was “top-grade” — a considerable drop from the average figure of 69% logged from 2018 to 2022.

The prefectural government has attempted to assuage public concerns, saying “The grade may have fallen, but flavors remain the same.”

Local farmers’ cooperatives affiliated with the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) Group have been promoting their crops by holding tasting events to reassure customers that the taste of their respective products is unchanged.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the average national temperature from June to August hit an all-time high since statistics were first collated in 1898. The agency described the recent weather as “abnormal.”

Impact on income

The unprecedented heat has severely undermined rice quality. According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, as of the end of August, the ratio of top-class rice stood at 31% in Saitama Prefecture, a year-on-year fall of 22 percentage points; 39% in Aichi Prefecture, marking a 19-percentage point decline; and 34% in Hyogo Prefecture, which also marked a 19-point dip.

The ratio of this year’s top-grade rice is expected to fall in the Hokkaido, Tohoku and Hokuriku regions, too.

Harvest grades are directly linked to rice growers’ incomes. Pre-harvest commissions from the JA and other organizations are set according to the quality of rice crops. Agricultural cooperatives in areas where the ratio of top-grade rice is low plan to support members by boosting advance payments.

The heat wave has also impacted other agricultural products. According to a survey report released Tuesday by the farm ministry, the national average retail price for 1 kilogram of carrots from Sept. 25-27 was ¥635 — 47% higher than the same period in average years. In the same period of time, the retail price of tomatoes rose by 36% to ¥1,181.

High prices are expected to continue through October for radishes and green onions due to smaller harvests caused by the negative effects of high temperatures.