“Farmers cannot grow anything without assurance from the government that their paddies are safe for food production,” said Takuo Ichiya, agricultural production manager at the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, Japan’s largest farmers group. “Concerns about radioactive contamination may hinder planting not only in Fukushima but neighboring prefectures too.”
Rice production in Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures amounted to 1.22 million tonnes last year, representing 15% of Japan’s total output. The main growing regions are in the northern island of Hokkaido, away from the affected area on the main island of Honshu, followed by Niigata prefecture in the northwest and Akita prefecture, which shares a border with Fukushima.
“It is useless to produce crops that may end up destroyed because of contamination,” Himeda said in a phone interview with Bloomberg. “If farmers may have no other option but to abandon planting, they should be compensated for lost production by Tokyo Electric Power.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu is facing calls to quit after the crisis at the utility’s nuclear plant capped a tenure that has seen $26 billion wiped off the company’s market value. The company has been battling to end the release of radiation at the plant, struck 17 days ago by Japan’s biggest earthquake on record and a tsunami.
Japan, the world’s largest corn importer, is self-sufficient in rice. Fukushima produced 439,100 tons of paddy rice last year, accounting for 5.3% of the nation’s total output, data from the agriculture ministry showed.
Ibaraki prefecture, south of Fukushima, was Japan’s fifth-biggest rice producer last year with 392,800 tonnes. Miyagi prefecture, north of Fukushima, was ranked as the sixth-biggest grower with 391,300 tonnes.
“If rice production is hindered in areas affected by the nuclear plant accident, growers in other regions will increase planting to make up for the loss,” said Ichiya at the central union, known as JA-Zenchu.
The government also held 880,000 tonnes of foreign rice in inventories at the end of October last year. Japan agreed to give minimum-market access to exporting countries at the Uruguay Round of world trade talks in 1993, buying 770,000 tonnes a year from overseas.