March 30, 2023

Brighton Journal

Complete News World

The secret behind Japan’s delicious strawberries: kerosene

Minoh, Japan – Strawberry Cake. Strawberry mochi. Strawberry style.

These may sound like the joys of summer. But in Japan, the strawberry crop peaks in winter—a picture-perfect cold season of berries, when the most immaculate berries sell for hundreds of dollars a piece to give as special gifts.

Japanese strawberries come with an ecological toll. To recreate an artificial spring in the winter months, farmers grow out-of-season delicacies in huge greenhouses heated with giant gas-guzzling heaters.

“We’ve gotten to a point where many people think it’s normal to have strawberries in the winter,” said Satoko Yoshimura, a strawberry farmer in Minoh, Japan, outside of Osaka. -When temperatures drop well bellow freeze.

She was filling up her heater tank with fuel, she said, and began to think, “What do we do?”

Fruits and vegetables are grown in greenhouses all over the world, of course. However, the strawberry industry in Japan has taken it so far that most growers stop growing strawberries during the warmer and less profitable months, i.e. the actual planting season. Instead, in the summertime Japan imports much of its supply of strawberries.

It’s an example of how modern projections of year-round fresh produce can demand staggering amounts of energy, contributing to a warming climate versus eating strawberries (or tomatoes or cucumbers) even when temperatures drop.

Even several decades ago, the Japanese strawberry season began in the spring and lasted until early summer. But the Japanese market usually places a high value on first-of-the-season or “hatsumono” produce, from tuna to rice And tea. A crop claiming the mantle of hatsumono can fetch many times normal prices, and even hamper frantic media coverage.

Now, strawberries are a Christmas staple in Japan, adorning Christmas cakes sold across the country throughout the month of December. Miyazaki said some growers began shipping their first strawberries in November. (More recently, an image of one Japanese brand’s perfect strawberry, Oishii (which means “delicious”), became popular on TikTok, but it’s grown by an American company in New Jersey.)

Japan’s shift towards growing strawberries in freezing weather has made growing strawberries significantly more energy intensive. according to Analyzes of greenhouse gas emissions Associated with various products in Japan, strawberry emissions are nearly eight times that of grapes, and more than 10 times that of tangerines.

“It’s all about heating,” said Naoki Yoshikawa, an environmental science researcher at Shiga Prefectural University in western Japan who led the study of product emissions. “And we considered all aspects, including transportation, or what it takes to produce fertilizer — even then, heating had the biggest impact.”

Such examples complicate the idea of ​​eating local, the idea espoused by some environmentally conscious shoppers of buying food that was produced relatively nearby, in part to reduce fuel and pollution associated with shipping.

Shelly Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan who focuses on climate, food, and sustainability, said that transporting food often has less of an impact on the climate than how it is produced. One study, for example, found that tomatoes grown locally in heated greenhouses in Britain contain Higher carbon footprint Compared to tomatoes grown in Spain (outdoors and in season), and shipped to British supermarkets.

In Japan, the energy required to grow strawberries in winter has not proven to be a mere climate burden. It also made strawberry farming expensive, especially with higher fuel costs, hurting the farmers’ bottom line.

Research and development of berry cultivars, as well as branding, have helped alleviate some of these pressures by helping growers obtain higher prices. Strawberry cultivars are sold in Japan with whimsical names such as Beni Hoppe (“red cheeks”), Koinoka (“smell of love”), and Bijin Hime (“beautiful princess”). Along with other expensive fruits such as watermelons, they are often given as gifts.

Tochigi Prefecture, a prefecture north of Tokyo that produces more strawberries than any other prefecture in Japan, is meeting climate and cost challenges with a new strawberry variety called Tochiaika, a shortened version of the phrase “Tochigi’s beloved fruit.”

Seven Years in the making by agricultural researchers at the Tochigi Strawberry Research Institute, the new variety is larger, more disease resistant, and produces a higher yield than the same accession, making it more energy efficient to grow.

Tuchiyaka strawberries also have a firmer skin, which reduces the number of strawberries damaged during transportation, thus reducing food waste, which also has climate consequences. In the United States, where strawberries are often grown in the warmer climates of California and Florida, strawberry buyers ignore an estimated one-third of the crop, in part because of how fragile they are.

Instead of heaters, some Tochigi farmers use something called a “water curtain,” a drop of water that coats the outside of their greenhouses, keeping temperatures inside steady, though this requires access to abundant groundwater. “Farmers can save on fuel costs, and help fight global warming,” said Takayuki Matsumoto, one of the team members who helped develop the Toshiyaka strawberries. “This is ideal.”

She was a young mother of one, with another on the way, who had spent many of her pandemic lockdown days reading about climate change. A series of devastating floods in 2018 that destroyed the tomato patch on the farm she runs with her husband also woke her up to the dangers of a warming planet. “I realized I needed to change the way I farmed, for the sake of my children,” she said.

But at Mount Minoh, temperatures can drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or about minus 7 degrees Celsius, levels at which strawberry plants are usually dormant. So I dug into agricultural studies trying to find another way to ship strawberries during the lucrative winter months, while not using fossil fuel heating.

I read that strawberries sense temperatures via a part of the plant known as the crown, or the short, thick stem at the base of the plant. She surmised that if she could use groundwater, which generally remains at a constant temperature, to protect the crown from freezing temperatures, she would not have to rely on artificial heating.

Mrs. Yoshimura has equipped the strawberry beds with a simple irrigation system. For more insulation at night, she covered the strawberries with plastic wrap.

She asserts that her cultivation methods are a work in progress. But after her fruit had survived the cold snap of December, she took her artificial heater, which had been kept on standby in a corner of her greenhouse, and sold it.

Now, she’s working towards getting local recognition for her “unheated” strawberries. She said, “It would be nice if we could make strawberries when it’s more natural.”