Vivid red mangoes full of Kochi’s sun’s essence are packed by Murata Seikou, owner of Murata Farm. He then puts a sticker and an address on the boxes as they will be trucked to customers who ordered them from all over Japan. They are destined to be someone’s smile every year. These are “Yosakoi Mangoes”, and they are raised with a lot of love by Murata Seikou and Yuriko’s husband and wife team at Murata Farm in Ino.
Most farmers depend on agricultural cooperatives (JA) to sell their farm products. However, some have stopped relying on agricultural cooperatives and are turning to new ways to market their produce. Murata Farm is such a farm.
“You could receive subsidies from the town if you become a mango farmer,” they were told, “I need two more mango farmers.”
“People who farm around here are tough,” Yuriko said. “If do not do it with much motivation.”
Actually, the number of people who quit agriculture is increasing. It is difficult to make a living farming.
“The optimum temperature for growing mango is 30 degrees. Too warm is not good for mango,” Seikou said.
A large air conditioner is necessary to maintain that temperature. The electricity bill to run it is very expensive. There are also various required machines and maintenance.
This farm produce about 15,000 mangoes every year, but not everything will be for sale. Mangoes that are not for sale are processed into sherbet. Mango would seem to be profitable, but their annual income is not so large. As with the expenses, it gets even smaller.
“We are living at the limit,” Yuriko said.
When farmers sell products through agricultural cooperatives, they have to pay compounding fees and can not get the price they want.
“By selling directly to customers, farmers can sell products at the price we want to sell, so we can earn more than selling through agricultural cooperatives,” Seikou said. “We can not live if we sell mangos at the price presented by agricultural cooperatives.”
According IJU info (http://web-iju.info/data/data_14.htm), in 2006, 50.8% of the farmers rely on the agricultural cooperative sales route. Direct sales to consumers accounts for 46.9%, not much different from the number of farmers who rely on agricultural cooperatives.
Ninety percent of mangos from Murata farm are sold directly to customers ordered by telephone or fax. The remaining ten percent is sold to outlets such as the Daimaru department store, the Sunny Mart grocery chain, and roadside shops known as Michi-no-eki.
According to a graph of the elapsed years after farming for each sales route in IJU info, in 2006, 60% of the farmers in the 1st and 2nd years are reduced to 45% in the 5th year. In contrast, selling directly to consumers has increased from 42% to 51%. Based on this data, farmers noticed the disadvantage of selling through agricultural cooperatives as they advance agriculture, and it is expected that they shifted to direct sales.
It is very hard to make a living by agriculture as farmers must battle nature, and the harvest and income are not stable. Agricultural cooperatives are organizations that provide various supports, but they are incompatible with some farmers like Murata farm. Such farmers will shift to direct sales.
It means it is important to maintain the current situation rather than aim too high.
“Even if we increase production and shipment any further in this state, there is not enough hands, and it is best to do as much as possible with the current size of our operations,” Yuriko said.