Visit by Mr. Yusaku Hiragata, Director-General of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to "Hokuryu Town, a town that produces safe and reliable rice

Friday, June 21, 2024

On June 16 (Sun.), Mr. Yusaku Hiragata, Director General of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Hokkaido Agricultural Administration Office visited Hokuryu-cho to exchange views with the members of "Honoka Agricultural Cooperative Association".

Table of Contents

Welcome to Hokuryu Town, welcome Director Yusaku Hiragata!
(Hokuryu Town Hall, LCD display)

左:平形雄策 局長、右:佐々木康宏 町長
Left: Yusaku Hiragata, Director General; Right: Yasuhiro Sasaki, Mayor

Thank you for visiting

  • Yusaku Hiragata, Director-General, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Takehito Asami, Assistant Director, Land-use Agriculture Coordination Team, Planning Division, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Director, Hokkaido Agricultural Administration Office, Fukushima I.
  • Assistant Manager, Production Support Division, Hokkaido Agricultural Administration Office, Kimitaka Kaku
Members of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Hokkaido Agricultural Administration Office

Profile of Yusaku Hiragata

Mr. Yusaku Hiragata was born on April 13, 1964 (age 60), is from a farming family in Takayama Village, Agatsuma County, Gunma Prefecture (Takayama Village: population 3,167 as of May 1, 2024), graduated from Keio University Faculty of Law, entered the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (April 1989), and was appointed Director General of the Agriculture and Fisheries Bureau (July 1, 2021).

  • March 1989 - Graduated from Keio University, Faculty of Law
  • April 1989 - Joined Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • April 2005 - Research Officer, Planning and Evaluation Division, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • August 2006 - Research Officer and Cabinet Secretary, Planning and Evaluation Division, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • August 2008 - Research Officer and Cabinet Secretary, Policy Division, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • January 2009 - Counselor, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • October 2009 - Director, Cooperative Organization Division, Management Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • 2012 (June) - Director, Management Policy Division, Management Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • October 2015 - Director, General Affairs Division, Food Industry Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • July 2017 - Director, Budget Division, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • July 2018 - Director of Agricultural Production Department and Policy Directorate, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan
  • July 2021 - Director General, Agricultural Products Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Office of Agricultural Cooperative HONOKA (Biyagyu)

The meeting moved from the Hokuryu Town Hall to the office of the Agricultural Cooperative Honoka (Biyagyu), where the exchange of opinions took place.

Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA Office

Yusaku Hiragata, Director General

Greeting from Mr. Yusaku Hiragata

Thank you Mayor Sasaki and all of you for having us.

I have been in Hokkaido since yesterday, where I had a chance to discuss with them about the revised Basic Act on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas and paddy field policy. Among them, I was particularly recommended to visit Honoka, an agricultural cooperative in Hokuryu Town, and I decided to visit them despite the fact that it was a holiday.

This time, the amendment of the Basic Law for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas includes a provision for ensuring food security. I believe that Hokkaido is indeed a major base for the cultivation of rice, grains, vegetables, and other crops.

I think it is very important that the people of the region, which produces some of the best quality rice in Japan, do their best to produce it so that the people of Japan will not go hungry.

As for us, we would like to support you. We look forward to your success. Please join us today," said Director Hiragata.

Discussion with Honoka, an agricultural cooperative

Outline of Hokuryu Town, Hokkaido

  • Location:About 100 km north of Sapporo, about 50 km west of Asahikawa
  • Population :1,612 persons 785 households (as of June 1, 2024)
  • Number of farm households:Approximately 140 units (as of April 1, 2024)
  • Cultivated land area:2,977 ha
    (1,669 ha of rice paddies, 1,308 ha of fields: 49 ha of buckwheat, 260 ha of soybeans, 230 ha of wheat)
  • Average cultivated area per household:21,3 ha

Minoru Nagai, JA Kitasorachi, Hokuryu District Representative Director
Explanation of Hokuryu Town Rice "Sunflower Rice

Grand Prize in the Collective Organization category at the 46th Japan Agricultural Awards

In 2016, "Hokuryu Sunflower Rice Production Cooperative" won the grand prize in the collective organization category of the 46th Japan Agricultural Awards.

The Japan Agricultural Prize is sponsored by JA-Zenchu, JA Prefectural Central Associations, and NHK to recognize farmers and farming groups that contribute to the development of local communities through their ambitious efforts to reform and develop management and technology with the aim of establishing Japanese agriculture".

The Hokuryu Sunflower Rice Production Cooperative was awarded the Grand Prize for its town-wide efforts to reduce agricultural chemicals, acquisition of JAS standards for agricultural products for which production information is disclosed, and town-wide sales promotion activities.

The town of Hokuryu has a long history of environmentally friendly rice cultivation, and in 1988, when pesticide regulations were less stringent, the town began actively engaged in organic farming, reduced pesticide use, and pesticide-free cultivation.

Hokuryu Town has declared itself "a town with a declaration of safe food production that protects the lives and health of the people," and the Agricultural Committee, Land Improvement District, and Hokuryu Town have worked together to cultivate safe agricultural products.

Sunflower Rice Production Cooperative obtained the JAS standard for agricultural products for which production information is disclosed, and all information was disclosed to consumers.

Of the 140 farm households in the Himawari Production Cooperative, 100 are paddy rice farmers, and all paddy rice farmers are working on JAS standards for agricultural products to disclose production information.

Hokuryu is the only town in Japan where all of the town's production cooperatives are certified," said Nagai, Hokuryu District Representative Director.

Pioneer: Mr. Ryoji Kikura (former JA Kitasorachi President and Honorary Townspeople of Hokuryu: from handouts distributed on the day)

In 1973, the late Toru Goto and Ryoji Kikura (then president of the Hokuryu Agricultural Cooperative Association) began rice cultivation using natural farming methods.

Mr. Ryoji Kikura advocates the spirit of "food is life" in agriculture.Quality control of production conditions."He explained the importance of

"The original food we eat comes to life in 'strong water' supported by mountains, trees, and greenery. Do not let the 'land' you have inherited deteriorate or become polluted. The basis of agriculture is to nurture the "spirit of peasants," which protects your life, and to nurture the bearers of this spirit.

In June 1988, the Youth Division of the Agricultural Cooperative made a declaration on safe food production at the "Farmers' Assembly for Protecting the Life and Health of the People".

As a rice-producing region, we aim to protect and nurture "life, food, the environment, and livelihood" and contribute to people, the community, and society by producing safe food for people through the efforts of producers who work together to cherish the idea that "food is life" and devote their hands, skills, and hearts to the production of food.

Organic JAS technology (from handouts distributed on the day)

  • Improve physical, chemical, and biological properties based on soil preparation, and work to predict outbreaks of pests and diseases
  • Weeding is done twice a year, using a weed whacker.
  • Pests use biological pesticides, doroy cleaner, etc.

Paddy rice seed hot water disinfection machine

As one of the techniques of Organic JAS, we were the first to introduce a "paddy rice seed hot water disinfection machine. From the viewpoint of how to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, seed disinfection has become a necessary operation, and by adding this hot water disinfection, we can limit the use of pesticides.

  • Warm water disinfection is one method of disinfecting paddy rice seeds that does not rely on chemical pesticides
  • JA Kitasorachi Hokuryu Branch installed a complete set of hot water disinfection plant with subsidies from the Hokkaido Government and Hokuryu Town.
  • Hot water disinfection can kill any bacteria by sterilizing seeds at 60°C for 10 minutes.

We are dealing with organic rice and specially cultivated rice, although only about 10% of rice cultivation is organic rice. Among them, our pesticide-saving rice "Kitakurin" can be grown using only four pesticides (conventional cultivation uses 22 pesticides), and we sell it as safe and secure rice," explained Mr. Nagai, Hokuryu District Representative Director.

Hokuryu Brown Rice Barrel Facility Color Sorter (from handouts distributed on the day of the event)

At the Hokuryu brown rice bulk facility, a new system will be installed to improve efficiency of what had previously been done manually.

  • All materials are processed through a color sorter to remove foreign materials.
  • Contamination prevention equipment installed on all lines
  • Introduction of traceability systems. Automated identification of producers.

By entering the lot number on the bag of sunflower rice at the JA Kitasorachi Hokuryu Branch Office, Production Information Publication Agricultural Products JAS website, you can obtain detailed information on the produce, including the producer's name, photo, harvest date, name of pesticide and fertilizer chemicals, number and amount used, and map of the rice paddy.

Brown rice dried by farmers and brought to the facility is first subjected to a "voluntary inspection" by JA Kitasorachi staff. Protein percentage, kernels, etc. are determined by the inspection machine, and information is processed by computer.

Acceptance Criteria for Brown Rice
  • Protein (4 categories), Grain preparation (4 categories)
  • Adjustment rank (5 categories), variety (13 categories)
  • Product identification number (8 categories) General cultivation (per variety)
  • Organic JAS (per variety) Special cultivation (per variety)
  • Cultivar ✕ Protein ✕ Grain Tuning Rank = 3500 different rice varieties available for shipment
  • As for the results, 335 kinds of leaped rice and 29 kinds of glutinous rice were collected at the time of acceptance.
  • Types by sale are sorted into 115 types (103 types of Uruchi rice and 12 types of Glutinous rice)
Why sort and collect so much?
  1. From the growers' point of view, it is rewarding to have their rice, which they have worked hard to cultivate, sorted individually, and this will also help JA to increase its collection rate.
  2. Recognized by consumers as a production center that can meet a variety of needs

Sunflower Rice's commitment (from handouts distributed on the day)

  1. The level of rice farmers in Hokkaido is so high that there is honestly little difference in "taste" between the two.
  2. JA Kitasorachi Hokuryu Branch further selects the best rice, and only rice that meets the standard of protein value, which is said to affect the taste, is shipped as "Himawari Rice. Therefore, there is no blurring of taste, and the rice stored in the cold warehouse can be delivered with the taste of new rice intact.
  3. The rice is not only delicious but also safe because it is 100% collected at the facility and adjusted by the "color sorter," a machine that removes any foreign substances that may be present.

Opinion exchange: GPS in Smart Agriculture

❂ Nagai, Hokuryu District Representative Director"With the number of producers decreasing nationwide, we are now in a situation where we are going to incorporate labor-saving, high-quality production, etc. through smart agriculture. This town is surrounded by mountains, so there are twists and turns in the middle and mountainous areas, and it is difficult to secure a GPS signal when ICT is incorporated.
During this year's spring rice planting season, there was an event that caused the GPS to go haywire. Rumor has it that it was caused by solar flares. There were about 10 events where the GPS would move differently than normal, not going straight, but meandering and finally stopping, and the setting would go off."

Director ❂ Hirakata DirectorAs it stands now, what percentage of all places are GPS-enabled?"

❂ Nagai, Hokuryu District Representative DirectorIf it's a normal flat lot, I think you can use about 60% of it," he said. With GPS that takes up to the height, I think it will be less than 50%."

Director ❂ Hirakata DirectorFrom the view from the car window, I felt that it would be difficult to maintain some of the large plots horizontally. I think it is necessary for base stations to be set up not only by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, but also by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which has jurisdiction over local governments, and other non-agricultural organizations. I would like to work on this while recognizing these issues."

Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA, Business Outline: Explanation by Mr. Toshimitsu Yamada, Representative & Handout from the day

In 2012, five farmers seeking to incorporate began working together and accounting for paddy rice only.

The company was registered with the Legal Department and established in 2014 (2014). We used the additional funds for scaling up at that time as a preparatory fund. We also started fruit and vegetable crops, and over the next three years, we became a corporation specializing in sunflowers like no other. Revenue, which was initially about 150 million yen, now exceeds 250 million yen. We don't have much revenue because of overall expenses. We don't make any money (laughs)," says Representative Yamada.

What is an Agricultural Cooperative?

Agricultural cooperatives are cooperatives among agricultural production corporations that differ from joint-stock companies in the system and structure themselves, and are based on the principle of equality.


  • Investment Constituents:9 persons
  • New farmer:5 persons
  • Male:10 (2 in their 20s, 2 in their 30s, 2 in their 40s, 1 in his 50s, 3 in his 60s)
  • Women: 8 (20's-60's)
  • Other part-time jobs

Cultivated area in 2024: 17,318 a (about 4 km✕ 4 km)

  • Paddy rice :12,268a
  • Soybeans :960a
  • Fall wheat:442a
  • Sunflower edible:187a
  • For sunflower oil:357a
  • Landscape sunflowers:148a
  • House melons:135a
  • Inagi Biyori :406a
  • Green manure, hotbeds, etc:1,170a
  • Vegetables :28a
  • Total :17,318a
    Approx. 4 km✕ 4 km = 340 times the size of Tokyo Dome

Major projects from March to October

  • Agricultural experience exchange with university students
  • Inspection and harvest experience
  • Acceptance of agricultural trainees
  • Women's party, swimming in the sea
  • Dedicated farm work, occasional barbecue

Taken from Agricultural Cooperative Honoka Instagram(Click here for Instagram >>)

Message to all young people (from handouts distributed on the day of the event)

Rice paddies and fields are not food production factories. Farming is not like making cars or televisions in a streamlined process.

It is an industry of life in blood, where grandfathers, grandmothers, wives, and children grow food with their own wisdom, bodies, and minds, sometimes fighting against nature while receiving the benefits of the sun, water, and soil.

Farmers are building communities. They protect the countryside. They nurture the people there.

Honoka was created to protect and nurture ourselves and those around us, this nature, and the town of Hokuryu through agriculture.

exchange of opinions

Director ❂ Hirakata DirectorThe age structure of the male farmers at Honoka is well-balanced, and young farmers from outside the town are new to farming here. It takes a lot of courage to become a new farmer, and what is the secret behind these people settling here and taking up farming?"

Shigeki Mizutani, former representative of HONOKAI think young people want to work here because they enjoy it. Most of the young people who come here for training say they want to work here. The percentage of farmers in Hokkaido is low, but the percentage of farmers here is high. Every year, we are passing on the farming industry to the younger generation.

Director ❂ Hirakata DirectorIn the Basic Law Revision Act, there is a movement to produce as much rice, wheat, soybeans, and other crops as possible in Japan. In the area of fertilizers, there is also a movement to review the use of compost and other fertilizers.

In the agricultural workforce, there are currently 1.2 million people, but estimates indicate that by 2040 this number will drop to 300,000, or one-fourth of the current workforce.

I think we should seriously foster and support organizations that are called agricultural support service entities, which will be contracted to do the work in the future.

It is now called smart farming, but it is expensive. Equipment is being updated sequentially, and it would be difficult to get individual farmers to buy new equipment.

I believe that having such smart farm machines and contracting only the work part such as seeding, pest control, harvesting, etc., and using the latest farm machines will be the way forward in the future.

Honoka's role may be to manage the business itself, but I think it may also develop into a partial outsourced business or move forward into the employee structure.

Until now, subsidies have been paid mainly to farmers when they install machinery, but from now on, organizations that are engaged in commissioned projects will also be actively eligible for subsidies when they install machinery.

In addition, with the Smart Agriculture Technology Utilization Promotion Act, a scheme will begin to work next year that will allow support from the financial tax system. I believe we must strengthen our agricultural support service entities."

Mr. Mizutani ❂ Mr. MizutaniWe had expected to be in the commissioned business when we first established the corporation, but as the size of the corporation has grown, we have our hands full with ourselves at the moment.

❂ Hiroki Zenoka, Chairman (Hokuryu Agricultural Committee)We sometimes receive requests to set up seedlings, but we have our hands full with our own work. We may have to ask organizations such as the third sector to do the work for us, or things will get tougher.

Director ❂ Hirakata DirectorHe said, "Over the past 30 years, the standard of paddy rice farmers in Hokkaido has risen considerably. Yumepirika, Fukkurinko, Kirara, and others have all become delicious rice, and I think it is truly a wonderful effort.

What I like about Honoka is that she is not only nurturing the second and third generations of farmers, but also attracting and training more and more people from outside the province who are not familiar with agriculture and would like to try farming.

We hope that everyone will work together to produce food for Japan and that many people will become farmers. And we will continue to support them.

Field Inspection

Since time was limited, we ended the meeting and took a tour of the "Inakibi Field" next to the office to touch the soil.

Feel the soil of the Inakibi field.
Inspect the field on site
With new farmer Miharu Yamagami!
Everyone took a commemorative photo together!

After this, we moved to Sunflower Village for inspection!

After inspecting the fields of Honoka Agricultural Cooperative, the group visited Sunflower Village and left Hokuryu Town for Asahikawa Airport.

Inspection tour of Sunflower Village
Sunflowers beginning to sprout
We are grateful to the Sunflower Village for nurturing our lives.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Director Hiragata and everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to come all the way to Hokuryu Town to talk directly with producers and feel the atmosphere of the fields firsthand. Thank you very much.

We express our infinite love, gratitude, and prayers for the precious agriculture that nurtures life in the midst of Mother Nature, and for the great visit where the passionate thoughts of producers are exchanged and communicated to each other.

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