June 25, 2019
Number of Japan's dairy farming households drops by nearly 60% in last 20 years
Japan has witnessed a nearly 60% decline in the number of dairy farming households for the past 20 years, according to recent data provided by the country's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
The rate of the decline is equivalent to close to three households withdrawing from the dairy farming business every day, Yomiuri Shimbun reported. Factors for this trend include a tough profession that permits only few off days as well as fewer successors willing to continue the business. Labour shortages and the difficulty of finding successors have been considered as the key challenges affecting farming households which are usually family-run operations.
From 37,400 in 1998, the number of dairy farming households had decreased to 15,700 last year, according to Japan's agriculture ministry. The figure is equivalent to 1,085 household per year which close their business.
In addition, the production of raw milk had plunged from around 8.57 million tonnes in 1998 to about 7.29 million tonnes in 2018. The drop marked a 15% decline.
A survey by the Tokyo-based Japan Dairy Council found that the average dairy farming household in Hokkaido had 77.7 milkable cows, compared to only 43.4 cows in the other 46 prefectures, indicating that several operations in the latter are small-scale. The average age of non-Hokkaido dairy farmers is older, with about 80% being at least 50 years old.
Nationwide, dairy farmers get an average of 17.7 days off per year, or only one or two days per month. These farmers usually work long hours and could hesitate about purchasing new equipment given that they do not have successors.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which went into effect last year and is expected to increase dairy imports, is also considered as another factor impacting the local dairy sector.
According to Yoshiharu Shimizuike, a lecturer on agricultural economics at Hokkaido University, production in Hokkaido supports consumption in the other prefectures. In fiscal 2017, Hokkaido delivered 400,000 tonnes of raw milk and 390,000 tonnes of milk in cartons to the rest of the nation.
However, the transportation of milk is curtailed by a lack of drivers. "Policies to prevent the number of dairy farmers from declining in prefectures outside Hokkaido are needed," Shimizuike said.
A decline in dairy farming households will also affect the stable supply of raw milk.
According to the agriculture ministry, since April the price of a regular-size carton of milk in supermarkets and other retail outlets has risen by about JPY7 (US$0.07).
In addition, the processing of raw milk is mainly for producing drinking milk, putting a squeeze on the availability of raw milk for making cheese, butter and other dairy products. As a result, imports are making up for that shortage.
Due to factors such as the growing popularity of cheese, domestic consumption of dairy products is growing. There has also been growth in imports of dairy products, going from 4.05 million tonnes in fiscal 2013 to five million tonnes in fiscal 2017, about a 20% rise.
"If things continue as they are, it will be difficult to maintain a stable supply of dairy products through domestic production," said a Japan Dairy Council official.
- Yomiuri Shimbun