New farmers, Kosuke and Tomomi Sato, cultivating "sunflower watermelon" in their fourth year of farming in Hokuryu Town, after changing careers from a businessman.

Thursday, June 5, 2024

On Monday, June 3, we interviewed Mr. Kosuke Sato (47) and Mrs. Tomomi Sato (47), a new farmer who started a new sunflower watermelon farming business in Hokuryu Town in 2021.

Mr. Masao Fujisaki, who is in charge of the secretariat of the Hokuryu-cho Action Organization (Chairman: Akimitsu Takada), introduced us by saying, "Wonderful new farmers are doing well in Hokuryu-cho.

Mr. and Mrs. Sato, Mr. Kenichi Sakuraba, Hokuryu Town New Farmer Promotion Officer

Mr. and Mrs. Kosuke and Tomomi Sato, new farmers

A busy businessman's life

Kosuke Sato is a native of Yakumo-cho. He used to work as a store supervisor for a company that operates a large chain of restaurants throughout Japan. Although he lives in Sapporo, he was busy traveling around the country on his own (Saitama, Nagano, Yamagata, Osaka, etc.).

In the midst of such a busy salaried life, I began to think that I wanted to work in a job where my own ideas would come back to me, rather than in an attitude of doing the work given to me.

Chose agriculture as self-employment

First, he wondered if he could do something on his own. After doing some research, I found that the industry that is self-employed and has generous government subsidies and other support is farming. So, where is the best place to farm? Mr. Sato thoroughly researched new farming systems throughout Japan.

Since Mr. Sato's relatives live in Hokkaido, he narrowed down his choices to farming systems in Hokkaido. Among them, Hokuryu Town was the most generous in its support system for new farmers.

Sunflower Watermelon House at Sato Farm

Example of support system: Support system for farmers in Hokuryu Town

  1. Housing rent subsidy (during training):1/2 of the rent is subsidized (up to 10,000 yen)
  2. Financial Assistance Grants:Subsidy equivalent to property tax on acquired agricultural land, etc.
  3. Economic Independence and Stability Grant:1/10 of the borrowed institutional funds will be subsidized for 5 years from the year following the borrowing (up to 2.5 million).
  4. Interest subsidy:Grant of interest on borrowed institutional funds for 5 years (up to 20 million yen, the amount by which interest on borrowed funds exceeds 2%)
  5. Grants for home repairs, etc:Subsidize 1/5 of the cost of repairing, extending, or reconstructing a purchased house (up to 2.5 million yen)
  6. House Subsidized Projects:Subsidy of 80% of the amount of melon and watermelon greenhouses installed (JA 50% + Hokuryu Town 30%)
Hokuryu Town Portal

Wednesday, February 2, 2022 A training feature article on the training program for new farmers in Hokuryu Town (cultivation of watermelons and melons under the guidance of an instructor farmer) was published in the "Miner...


Scenery of Sato Farm

New Farmer Fair to connect with Hokuryu Town

Mr. Sato visited a fair for new farmers held in Sapporo in 2021.
Each municipality in Hokkaido has its own unique support system for new farmers, so Mr. Sato did some research beforehand and narrowed down the list before participating in the fair.

When we visited the Hokuryu Town booth, we met two people in charge of the project, Mr. Kenichi Sakuraba, a new farmer promoter, and Mr. Toshinari Watanabe, then head of the Hokuryu Town Himawari Watermelon Association, who gave us a detailed talk about immigration and new farming.

Sensing their enthusiasm and personality, they finally decided to settle in Hokuryu Town and visited the town the following week.

The deciding factor in selecting agricultural land was the enthusiasm and personality of the person in charge.

The final deciding factor was the grant factor, but I realized that the most important thing was to focus on the personality of the person in charge who will support us as we work together in the future. In that respect, I am still really glad that we did.

I am grateful to Mr. Sakuraba, the person in charge, who has been very helpful to me and has given me a lot of advice.

The people at the Himawari Suika Kumiai are really kind, and even though it was our first year and we didn't know where we were going, everyone helped us in various situations and answered our questions in a friendly manner.

This year marks our second year as an independent company. I am still inexperienced and making a lot of mistakes, but I am helped by the guidance and support of the people around me," says Sato.

We asked his wife, Tomomi, about her thoughts on the changes in their lives,

I was keenly aware of the difficulties my husband faced as a salaried worker on the side. We don't have children, so I decided that if he wanted to farm, I would give it a try.

Of course, I had no experience in farming before, so at first I didn't intend to help much (laughs), but after I actually tried it, I helped from morning to night, because we had to work together to make it work.

I manage to overcome my failures through trial and error. I am thankful that even when I fail, the people around me teach me how to cope with each failure," said Tomomi with a calm expression on her face.

Mr. Toshinari Watanabe, then head of the Himawari Watermelon Association, became independent after 2 years of training at a farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Sato moved to Hokuryu Town right after the farmers' fair, where they received training at the farm of Mr. Toshinari Watanabe of Himawari Suika Kumiai for two years.

In the first year, they were grown in four greenhouses, and this year two additional greenhouses are being grown in six greenhouses (four 100 m and two 90 m).

They have six greenhouses with about 200 plants per greenhouse. The couple has planted about 1,400 to 1,500 seedlings (cuttings) in six greenhouses.

Watermelon cultivation in the second year of independence

Impression of Hokuryu Town in the fourth year of immigration

Hokuryu is a very comfortable place to live. I used to live in Sapporo for a long time, but there were so many people and cars that I felt tired of the environment. Sometimes I go to Sapporo for business, but I don't feel at home there.

The people here in the Wa area are very kind. We have been invited to barbecues by our neighbors, and we have a very good relationship with them. They are very considerate and always call out to us, which is very helpful.

I had heard that it was difficult to move to a new town, but the townspeople are all very kind, so it was easy to get into the community and fit in," said Sato, who is grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the townspeople.

In the urban environment, there were so many people, you never knew who your neighbors were, and you had to worry about sound even in your own home."

However, here in Hokuryu Town, we have been given a large plot of land, a house and a warehouse (farmer's storage room) to share, giving us an environment in which we can fully implement our farming activities in the great outdoors.

It's easy here because I don't have to worry about the TV or loud noises. The air is also very clean and comfortable," says Tomomi.

The most difficult thing for me after moving here was cultivation. No matter how much you think about it in your head, the actual cultivation process is a natural one, so things sometimes happen that are different from what you expect.

I still don't have the skills yet, so I guess I have to learn while making mistakes each time. It is still hard work, but I am doing my best to become a full-fledged worker as soon as possible! says Sato.

It's hard work, but it's easier than when I was a salaried worker.

I get up at 4:00 in the morning and work until about 7:00 in the evening. I can do what I want, so it is easier than when I was a salaried worker.

During the winter period when the busy farming season is over, I travel all over the place for my favorite trips. Since my husband and I enjoy traveling, we used to travel all over the country on holidays when I was a salaried worker.

Here, I am too busy working on the farm to spend money, so my current income is sufficient to get by.

Thinking about my future retirement, I would like to build a few more houses and save some money," said Sato.

Meticulous adjustment of house temperature, humidity, and ventilation

Internet for gathering information on new farming

I gathered information on new farming by searching the Internet.

While some municipalities have detailed pages on their websites regarding new farming, there are quite a few websites where it is difficult to find information.

In this regard, Hokuryu Town provides easy-to-understand information on new farming.

The most sought after area of information gathering is the issue of cost. When starting out in agriculture, the funding and costs are quite high. In addition, we focused our research on how the training system method is handled and what kind of training is available," he said.

Get management on track to save money that can be put into savings.

It is important to be able to visualize how much income and what kind of life you can expect when you start farming. It would be very helpful if such information could be clearly presented on the Internet.

Ending one's life as a salaried worker and jumping into farming takes a lot of determination, so I think it is very important to be able to envision the future.

Very few municipalities disclose information about how much income they will receive in the future. Those that do disclose this information are popular and concentrated. For example, the town of Hiratori discloses plans for expenses and income, making it easy to envision future life.

Reference: Hiratori Town Regional Support Center, Farming Plan

Some municipalities do not disclose income or other information and only explain the subsidy program.

For those who are gathering information about a new farming project, the most important information is to have a clear picture of what their life will ultimately be like.

Also, if you decide what you want to grow from the beginning, the number of municipalities where that product is a specialty of the town will be limited. This narrows the range of choices and makes it difficult to find a farmer," says Sato.

When Mr. Sato began to consider becoming a new farmer, he thought about rice farming, but decided it was impossible because the initial investment was too large.

I imagined a farming plan that would allow me to get the initial investment paid off in two to three years and start a business that would allow me to save money for retirement.

Mr. and Mrs. Sato finally decided to grow sunflower watermelons in Hokuryu Town.

Failure is the source of success! Turn a pinch into an opportunity!

It is a repetition of failure. I think of failure as an initial investment. If I am depressed every time I fail, I cannot move forward, so I convert a pinch into an opportunity and take on challenges with a positive mindset.

And the hard work is interesting once you get used to it!

I love crops because I can watch them grow and nurture them as if they were my own children," said Kosuke Sato with great enthusiasm.

Cooperative work by Mr. and Mrs.

Equipment, etc. of Sato Farm

Automatic opening/closing device for plastic greenhouses

The plastic greenhouse windows open and close automatically (operated automatically by measuring humidity, temperature, and wind). Sometimes they don't actually move, so they use a smartphone as a remote control to open and close them remotely by themselves.

Automatic window opening/closing device for plastic greenhouses

Electric fence: solar system (photovoltaic power generation)

Electric fence aura system

We have heard of raccoons being caught, but no raccoons have preyed on our crops. Deer do walk around, but they don't come into the greenhouses," says Sato.

Well (12m deep)

As an investment in its second year of independence, the company installed a well to prepare for water shortages. Normally, the company uses water for irrigation and uses the well when there is a water shortage.

12m well

The dream of becoming self-employed in the town of Hokuryu has become a reality.

We express our infinite love, gratitude, and prayers to the precious souls of the people of Hokuryu Town who accept, help, and warmly watch over the new farmers who are making unceasing efforts to pick up the pieces.

With heartfelt thanks to Hokuryu Town agriculture that shines brightly in my mind's eye.

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◇ Reporting and writing by Ikuko Terauchi (Photography and editorial assistance by Noboru Terauchi)