Yamagata Pref.’s Cherry Harvest Nosedives Due to Heatwave; Prefecture Accounts for 70% of Japan’s Cherry Production

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A farmer checks cherries for damage in Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture, on June 27.

YAMAGATA — This year’s cherry harvest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan’s largest producer of the small red fruit, has significantly decreased this season due to extremely high temperatures. Yamagata Prefecture accounts for over 70% of domestic cherries.

Though cherries have been popular gifts for the prefecture’s furusato nozei hometown tax donation system, there were over 70,000 orders not able to be fulfilled.

Omachi Sakuranbo-en, a cherry farm in Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture, manages around 1,500 cherry trees, mainly of the Sato Nishiki variety. Many of the farm’s cherries this year were too small or had damage to their skin.

“Although I have been growing cherries for over 50 years, this is the first time I have encountered such a situation,” said 72-year-old Akira Takeda, who heads the farm.

According to sources including the prefectural government, the temperature variation in late May was larger than in average years, causing the cherries to change color before they had sufficiently grown.

To compound this, the average temperature in June was 1.8 C higher than normal, causing the fruits to mature too early en masse. As a result, some cherries could not be harvested due to damage.

In a typical year, the cherry harvest lasts until early July. However, this year, most farms have already completed their harvest.

The prefectural government initially expected 12,000 tons of cherries to be harvested, but the volume is now forecast to be much lower.

The effects have been felt in the markets. Cherries are in short supply and trading prices of the fruit have been on the rise. As of June 24, the trade volume of cherries in the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market dropped to about 40% of that last season. As well, the average trading prices rose about 40%.

The furusato nozei system has also been adversely affected. According to Yamagata prefectural government data, as of late June, the prefecture and 18 municipal governments couldn’t send cherries as gifts to about 77,600 instances.

Local governments were forced to change the gift to other products such as Shine Muscat grapes.

The prefectural government plans to assist cherry farmers with costs and technical assistance.