Region/Countries: Asia, Japan Industry: Agriculture / Timber, Food and Beverage Date: July 2018

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: The country is seeking to become more self-sufficient in its food supply, and Wisconsin firms can provide the agricultural technology to help.

Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio dropped from 78 percent in 1961 to 39 percent in 2006, where it has stayed since then. The government wants to raise the figure to 50 percent. The amount of land under cultivation in Japan declined from 6.09 million hectares in 1961 to 4.65 million hectares in 2006. An estimated 200,000 hectares of land at any time is idle. Rice production across Japan has fallen 20 percent in the past decade. Currently the nation's gross agricultural production totals about $100 billion, a decline of 30 percent from its peak. Agricultural output nearly halved from a peak of 7.8 trillion yen in 1992 to 4.8 billion yen in 2005. Japan produces only a few food items in sufficient quantities domestically, including rice, eggs, onions and cucumbers. On a caloric basis, Japan relies on imports for 60 percent of its food. About 90 percent of wheat consumed in Japan comes from Australia, Canada and the U.S. Japan imports 85 percent of the soybeans it consumes and 67 percent of the sugar. It gets 75 percent of its soybeans from the U.S. Although Japan depends heavily on foreign suppliers for most foods, up to 80 percent of all vegetables are locally grown.

As with most things, the Japanese have taken a high-tech approach to agriculture. A surprising amount of Japan’s food is produced in factories rather than farms, and this is only increasing. As of 2005, there were 16 artificial light-only facilities that produced 730 tons of vegetables on 10,978 square meters and natural-and-artificial-light facilities that produced 900 tons of vegetables on 26,957 square meters, eliminating risks from bad weather, diseases and pests.

Vegetables in plant factories are grown in environments cut off from the outside atmosphere to keep out pests and bacteria. The temperature is regulated using air conditioners and heaters. Light intensity, temperature and fertilizers are regulated using computers. The vegetables are grown in trays that are stacked up like bookshelves, with lights positioned so they reach all the trays, and pumps to circulate fertilizer-enriched water through the cultivation shelves.

Products in such factories are not affected by environmental pollution, and producers have little to worry about regarding harmful insects and plant diseases. The technology was first developed in Scandinavian countries, where the hours of sunlight are short for much of the year, but the market has been invigorated as well-funded enterprises have entered the business and worldwide demand for the technology has grown.

In Japan, where the farming population is declining, the technology has been attracting increased attention. There are also increasing attempts to apply robotics and other technology fields to agriculture. Companies with high-tech and robotics technologies should consider exporting to the Japanese market.