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ZoomUp / Dairy farmers fight to survive

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dairy cows are milked using a device that resembles a merry-go-round at Ocean Link in Taiki, Hokkaido. The device takes 13 minutes to finish milking all the cows. Milking about 700 cows takes about three hours. About 80 percent of the raw milk produced in Hokkaido is used for processing. The expected price reduction for imported dairy products likely will have a significant impact on domestic dairy farmers.

By Masamine Kawaguchi / Yomiuri Shimbun PhotographerSAPPORO — About 50 percent of the raw milk produced in Japan comes from Hokkaido. Domestic dairy producers are taking various measures in anticipation of falls in the price of imported dairy products due to the economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union that is expected to take effect in 2019.

Dairy cattle were taken to be milked at 3 p.m. at Ocean Link, an agricultural cooperative corporation located on a hill in Taiki, Hokkaido, commanding Pacific Ocean views. The corporation has dramatically improved the efficiency of its operations by introducing a large-scale milking machine.

The main machine is a milking support device called the Rotary Parlor that is 19 meters in diameter. Milking takes place twice a day — but what was once seen as hard work has been automated.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    From left: Katsushi Abe, Yasutaka Yamamori and Koji Shiraki, who are co-representatives of Ocean Link in Taiki, Hokkaido, use computers to track the conditions of their dairy cows, including temperature, raw milk output and signs of estrus. The men have been able to take more days off since they started jointly running the agricultural cooperative corporation, they said.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A worker is engaged in cheese production at Kyodogakusha Shintoku Nojo in Shintoku, Hokkaido. It is said that water from the Tokachi region contains a rich variety of microbes needed for cheese fermentation. Luxury cheese from the Shintoku farm is highly appreciated overseas due to its rich flavor and slight cherry blossom scent.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Norikazu Amakawa’s wife, Mika (right), and children, like his daughter shown here, help him in the afternoons at his farm in Hamanaka, Hokkaido. Since last year, Amakawa, 34, has supplied their products to a private company in Gunma Prefecture that buys at higher prices than the organizations specified by the central government. “We can produce milk while staying closer to consumers and focusing on quality,” he said. “I hope this can be an option for other small and midsize dairy farmers.”

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Cows relax in a pasture in Betsukai, Hokkaido. This method produces less raw milk, but eliminates feeding costs because the cows eat grass — dismissed as weed by other dairy farmers.

The corporation was founded four years ago by three young dairy farmers who were unable to manage their family businesses. The corporation plans to build a new barn this year to increase its dairy cattle from about 700 to about 1,200, and its annual shipping volume to 10,000 tons.

Tetsuo Moritaka, 66, is a dairy farmer who puts his cows out to pasture around-the-clock in Betsukai, Hokkaido, which produces the highest amount of raw milk in the nation. Relaxed-looking cows graze on the grass of a 20-hectare pasture that is part of his 57-hectare farm. Although the amount of raw milk produced at the farm is about half of the average, Moritaka is in the black because there are no feeding costs.

“Circulatory-type dairies, which utilize local features, are friendly for both the cows and the environment,” he said.

Kyodogakusha Shintoku Nojo is an agricultural cooperative corporation in Shintoku, Hokkaido, that produces cheese.

“We can avoid a price competition with European cheeses by enhancing the Tokachi cheese brand overseas,” said Nozomu Miyajima, 66, the representative of the corporation.

The corporation aims to expand its sales channels in Hong Kong, Singapore and other regions by working with other local factories to create a new brand of cheese made using Tokachigawa hot spring water.

Nearly 200 dairy farms in Hokkaido close down every year, with the aging of dairy farmers and a labor shortage becoming critical. With the looming enforcement of the EPA, dairy farmers are making “desperate moves to survive,” according to an industry source.Speech

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