Japan Seed Industry News

This page features a compilation and selection of Japanese seed industry news briefs, summaries and leads, with an emphasis on events that impact or affect provinces, regions, counties, cities and locales in Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku (日本国), Japan. 

The news covers trends and events regarding seed regulation, testing, legislation, phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, biotechnology (genomics, gene-editing) plant breeding, agronomy and cropping, with original sources linked.

This page will be updated throughout the year, with most recent briefs listed first.

 

2022 News

Q2 news

Fertilizer shortage in global supply crunch: May 25:  Surging fertilizer prices is causing concern for Japan’s agriculture industry as the country has relied on Russia and Belarus for up to 30 percent of its potassium chloride imports. Imports of the key chemical fertilizer ingredient have halted due to sanctions since March, forcing the country to rely more on Canada for supplies, which has caused a supply crunch as other countries also seek supplies. Even prior to the latest conflict, prices for chemical fertilizers were already on the rise after Chin, which is major producer of ammonium phosphate, tightened controls on its exports of fertilizers in October last year.  “According to the agricultural price index published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on April 27, the retail price of chemical fertilizers as of March was up 11.7 percent year on year.” Source.

Food self sufficiency challenges: May 13: A shortage of agricultural labor and farmland in Japan  threatens the country’s prospects for food security In 1960, the East Asian nation reportedly was fully self sufficient for rice, fruits and vegetables, and nearly so for meats; however, in 2021, “while Japan domestically produced 98 percent of rice consumed, the rate was 30 percent for fruits, 76 percent for vegetables, and 16 percent for stock farm products. The rates for other food items were 21 percent for soy beans, 15 percent for wheat, and 11 percent for beef.” Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has set goals to pull the country’s self-sufficiency rate up by increasing the proportion of domestic production of wheat by 40 percent, soy beans by 60 percent, vegetables by 15 percent, and feed by 48 percent, including through the introduction of high-yield and disease-resistant new crop varieties. Source

Research sheds light on mechanisms of nitrogen assimilation in plants: April 6: A collaborative research group – Baifeng Zhou, Hiroki Shima, Kazuhiko Igarashi, Kan Tanaka, Sousuke Imamura – out of Tohoku University in Japan have published a paper titled “CmNDB1 and a specific domain of CmMYB1 negatively regulate CmMYB1-dependent transcription of nitrate assimilation genes under nitrogen-repleted condition in a unicellular red alga” in the journal,  Frontiers in Plant Science “10.3389/fpls.2022.821947”. They assert to have “discovered the protein that inhibits the formation of organic nitrogen compounds in plants. This protein, if manipulated, could potentially be used to encourage plant growth, improving biomass production and crop harvests.” Read more details here. Research News - New Protein Discovery Reveals The Mechanisms of Nitrogen Assimilation in Plants | Tohoku University Global Site


Q1 news 

Value of apple exports increased: March 21: According to figures from the Ministry of Finance, the total export value of domestic apples from September 2021 to January 2022 was USD 90 million, an increase of 4% from the previous year. However, export volume was around 10% lower than last year. Originally sourced from Japan Yahoo news, retrieved on March 21, though link is now broken: https://news.yahoo.co.jp/articles/d86aeb49110f6ba1acf5bfa9a882158c5d9370ae

Seedless bell peppers to hit the shelves in April: March 2: Ueki (Yokohama City), a general horticultural trading company, applied for registration of seedless peppers developed by the company under the variety name 'Tanera', which are the world's first seedless bell pepper. Tanera is said to be less bitter compared to ordinary bell peppers. Original story in Japanese here

Heavy snow, wind and waves disrupts traffic: February 21: Road, air and railway traffic was disrupted by blizzards and high tidal waves in northern and eastern parts of Japan. No less than  140 flights to and from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido were canceled, while Hokkaido Railway Co suspended all train runs to and from JR Sapporo Station. The heavy snow also halted road traffic with reports of a fatal accident on the Hakodate-Esashi Expressway in Hokuto, Hokkaido. In addition to snow, winds at speeds of up to 126 kilometers per hour were reported in

Hokkaido and the northeastern Tohoku region, while tidal waves as high as 6 meters in height were reported for Hokkaido, Tohoku and Hokuriku region. More details here.

Fukushima food promoted in US: February 18:  Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry hosted an event in New York City to promote Japanese food, sourcing food ingredients from Fukushima. The event, which was attended by about 20 people working in local food businesses, was staged following the recent lifting of US import restrictions on food products from Fukushima and 13 other prefectures in Japan. “The restrictions on a total of 100 food items from the 14 prefectures were imposed after the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But the measures were lifted in September last year,” reports NHK, which noted that “Guests enjoyed boxed lunches made from ingredients from Fukushima, including sushi and sukiyaki using wagyu beef.” Full details here.

Japanese egg exports to resume to Taipei, address shortage: February 18: Announced plans by Chinese Taipei’s agricultural department announced to resume import of eggs from Japan through to March 31 have been met with some public opposition.The island of Chinese Taipei (Taiwan, China) has been mired in an egg shortage for about a month, and one source of eggs was proposed to be Ibaraki prefecture, a major egg producer in Japan, which borders Fukushima Prefecture to the north. More details here.

Record ag and seafood exports in 2021: February 4: The value of Japan’s agricultural and seafood exports in 2021 reached ¥1.24 trillion, which is a record high and an increase of  25.6% from the previous year. It is the first time for such exports to exceed  ¥1 trillion ($8.7 billion) , and was underlined by “strong online and retail sales as people spent more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic”, “recovery in demand for dining out in China and the United States, as well as “the removal of restrictions placed on imports of food from Japan by the U.S., European Union and other regions following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima”. Agricultural products accounted for ¥804.3 billion of the total in 2021. China topped the list of export destinations for the first time since 2001, while “exports of plants and processed sea cucumbers fell partly due to delays in quarantine” The government has set a target of raising agricultural and seafood exports to ¥2 trillion by 2025 and to ¥5 trillion by 2030. The entry into force in January of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is expected to boost exports. See full story on Japan Times here as well as here on Europe news.

2021 News

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Q4 News

MAFF notifies trading partners of new emergency phyto measure revisions: December 17: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has notified international trading partners of plans to revise several regulations concerning various phytosanitary processes, citing “the emergency nature of preventing pests of the most serious concern. . . from entering Japan.”  According to the latest notification circulated via the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (G/SPS/N/JPN/905) the proposed revisions specifically concern four International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures: ISPM 2 (guidelines for pest risk analysis); ISPM 11 (Pest risk analysis for quarantine pests); ISPM 19 (Guidelines on lists of regulated pests); and ISPM 20 (Guidelines for a phytosanitary import regulatory system), Specifically, MAFF has proposed to revisions to several annexes to the  Ordinance for Enforcement of the Plant Protection Act, including those concerning quarantined pests (Table 1, Annex 1); plants subject to field inspection in exporting countries (table 1-2, Annex 2); import prohibited plants (Table 2, Annex 3); plants subject to specific measures to be carried out in exporting countries (Table 2-2, Annex 4), and the respective “detailed rules for import plant quarantine enforcement”.  To be published in the official Japanese Government Gazette (Kampo), the proposed revisions “will enter into force immediately after the completion of domestic legal procedures”  expected to take about three months after the distribution of the notification. Revisions include provisions for additional declaration (AD) that mandate inspection and/or testing requirements, aimed to detect quarantine pathogens of concern, including Broad bean true mosaic virus, Bretziella fagacearum and Pantoea stewartii subsp. Stewartii, while also preventing the introduction of pests such as the Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis species complex). Among affected plant species include Zea mays and Zea mexicana, while several countries (Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uganda and Kenya) are now also required to provide additional declarations concerning PSTVd in seed shipments, while seeds originating from New Zealand will be subject to an AD for PeMV (Pepino mosaic virus). The International Seed Federation is collecting Specific requirements concerning seeds will be reviewed, consolidated and summarized by APSA’s Standing Committee for International Trade and Quarantine, and shared in Asian Seed and Planting Material, Volume 28, Issue 1, to be published Quarter 1, 2022.  Meanwhile, the original notification, which contains links to concerned ordinance and annexes, can be found here.  See also Plant Protection Act resources on MAFF website.

Hands on charity for single-mother rice distribution: November 14: An initiative to distribute newly-harvested rice to single-mother households in three prefectures in central Japan's Tokai region is making life easier for single mothers and their children. Families volunteer in rice cultivation activities with farmers, and pay a small fee to help cover costs of inputs and growing, and are in turn supplied with some of the rice.. For 500 yen (about $4.4) volunteering families could get 20 kilograms of fresh rice, which they can use in their household or sell as supplementary income. Full story here.

Japan supports, engages Southeast Asia agriculture sectors: Several headlines in November highlight cooperation projects and programs between Japan and the Southeast Asian countries of Viet Nam, Laos and the Philippines. On 18 November: a scientific conference, themed “Vietnamese and Kyushu Agriculture: Issues and future development” featured collaboration dialogue between the Consulate General of Vietnam in Fukuoka and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam (MARD) and Kyushu University, aiming to “further strengthen agricultural ties between the nations.” More details here. In a November 15 article, it was reported that the government of Japan provided grant assistance of US$240,000 for four development projects in rural areas of Laos. These include two health projects in Xieng Khuang and Xayaboury provinces, an education project in Huaphan province and an agriculture project in Savannakhet province. The agriculture project involves the construction of an irrigation system in Nongbualuang village, Savannakhet province, which would help stabilize wet season rice crop production, which has been adversely affected by flooding. Full details here. Finally, in a November 4 article, it was reported that the apanese government will provide food aid to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the form of a grant worth 350 million and implemented through the World Food Programme (WFP), which will enable the procurement of 1,788 metric tons of Japanese-produced rice to support 9,877 farming and fishing households. See full details here.

Gene-editing tomato on sale to public: September 15: Japanese start-up Sanatech Seed has announced that its Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomato has gone on sale commercially. According to a September 15 announcement by the company (here in Japanese) the  CRISPR gene-edited tomato, which was earlier this year sold to 4,200 farmers in the form of seedlings, was being offered at the sales rate of 6,048 yen per 2kg  and 7,506 yen per  3kg. The story was also covered in a September 24 article by New Scientist. here

Fukushima vegetables to be harvested: September 5: Fields planted with various types of vegetables in August and September in Fukushima trial fields are set to be harvested in October and November. Pending the results of radiation tests, the produce could be shipped for further processing and/or consumption by the end of this year. Vegetables, including spinach, Japanese mustard spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and turnip seeds and seedlings had been planted in four districts of the prefecture. See original news in Japanese here for more details


Q3 News

New Japan emergency measures fo PSTVd: August 30: From September 30, 2021, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is requiring for National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO) of four exporting countries to certify that seeds and other live material of certain plants are free from Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd), which “is one of the most serious pests for Japan.” In order to prevent PSTVd from entering Japan, the latest notification made through the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (G/SPS/N/JPN/864) specifically mandates for the seeds of various types of pepper, tomato, potato and petunias -- as well as “plants and plant parts being capable of planting for cultivation (excluding seed and fruit) of various more types of plants” that specifically originate in Kazakhstan, Kenya, Pakistan or Uganda. Requirements include testing samples using “an appropriate genetic method such as RT-PCR assay” in addition to making an additional declaration that "Fulfills item 24 of the Annexed Table 2-2 of the Ordinance for Enforcement of the Plant Protection Act (MAF Ordinance No. 73/1950)." Refer to full requirement details here

Imported wheat prices to be raised: September 11: Prices of imported mill-destined wheat will be raised, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has announced. Affected wheat includes  five major wheat brands imported by the Japanese government and sold to private milling companies. The price will raised  by an average of 19 percent for the October-March period from the previous six months, which marks the sharpest price rise since a 30% jump in the April-September period of 2008. Reasons cited include soaring international prices “due to robust demand from China for livestock feed and poor production in North America caused by unfavorable weather.” See full details here

Robots deployed for crop harvesting: September 15:  Grape farmers in the Yamagata Prefecture are testing the use of the autonomous  XAG R150 farm robot to conduct farm labor tasks in their vineyards. Yamagata is one of the four main production areas of the premium ‘Shine Muscat’, a large, seedless grape variety in high demand across Asia. Aside from spraying pest control chemicals for grapes, the robot is also being used to alleviate labour shortages in the melon cropping sector, in which it is used to water crops. See full story here

Hiroshima excess rain lack of sunshine shortage of summer veggies: Aug 24: Prices for summer vegetables have risen due to a sharp drop in supply caused by long and heavy rains that have damaged crops. These include spinach, Japanese mustard spinach, and soft vegetables such as cucumber and eggplants. Shipments have decreased by 60% to 70% compared to average. Seedlings that were planted earlier this month are also slow growing and harvest remains uncertain, and new planting will be delayed because the condition of the soil will not recover quickly enough. Original story in Japanese here 

Shizuoka seed conservation: Aug 20: As part of Shizuoka Prefecture's regional biodiversity strategy, 12 high school students from four high schools in the prefecture embarked on a seed conservation project for endangered species inhabiting the Akaishi Mountains, also known as the "Southern Alps". The students have recently climbed Mt. Senmaidake (2,880 meters) to plant alpine plants to conserve endangered plant species in the area. Original story in Japanese here 

Japanese grapes become Korean via China: Aug 9: Normally costing over USD 12,000 per bunch and only grown in Ishikawa Prefecture, Ruby Roman grapes have been discovered on sale in South Korea for only around USD 70 per bunch. Another protected Japanese variety, Jewel Muscat that was grown in South Korea, was also found on sale at a department store in Seoul. The recently revised Seedling Law in Japan prohibits the export of seeds and seedlings of "Ruby Roman" and "Jewel Muscat". According to the vendors, the saplings were imported from China, and cultivation begun before the revised Seedling Law came into effect and also before the varieties had been registered in South Korea to the consternation of Japanese farmers. Original story in Japanese here 

Fukushima rice and vegetable trials: Aug 6: Vegetable cultivation trials will begin on August 29th in Noyuki district of Fukushima Prefecture. The trials follow on from rice cultivation trials that were already started in May this year. The trial will take place on three farms with a total area of 6 acres and will include broccoli, cabbage, spinach, Japanese mustard spinach, and turnip. The harvested rice and vegetables will be tested for radiation levels and then discarded. It is hoped that the detected radiation levels are safe before a partial lifting of evacuation orders can take place around March/April 2022 Original story in Japanese here

Nepartak flies by Tokyo, Olympics: Jul 28: A tropical storm, dubbed in Japan as Typhoon Nepartak (not to be confused with the 2016 typhoon of the same name) on July 28 made landfall at the coast of the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi, providing sighs of relief in Tokyo, where the storm was initially expected to make landfall. The season’s eighth typhoon reached the nearby region of Ishinomaki early on July 28 morning, bringing strong winds and high waves, with maximum gusts reported to be 108 km per hour. See link here. The storm passed through Morioka city in Iwate prefecture, bringing 90 kilometres per hour, as well as heavy rain and landslide warnings, prompting the suspension of local train services. The storm was projected to weaken as it moved northwest towards the Sea of Japan, with more rain forecast in its path through to the beginning of August. 

Local media publishes Seed Act Q&A in English: July 20: The Mainichi Shimbun has answered some common questions about Japan's Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act, which was recently revised to prohibit the taking of seeds and saplings of some agricultural crop varieties outside of Japan without license to do so. Questions addressed include the type of crop varieties people are not allowed to take overseas (Currently 2,546 varieties designated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are subject to the law); why taking them out of the country was a problem (infringing of plant breeders rights, economic damages and decentivising innovation); as well as concerns and rights of farmers, and how they will be addressed in the Japanese Diet (legislaturee). To see full questions and answers, click here


Q2 News

Seedling seller admits to infringement of Seed Act: June 28: Local media has publicized the case of a suspected infringement of the newly amended Seed Act: A 34 year old man in Saijo City of Ehime Prefecture was notified and questioned by authorities about selling “Shine Muscat” seedlings at a local flea market with authorization from the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization. The man had admitted to selling some 40 seedlings of the prized variety, which has allegedly leaked to overseas markets in the past due to a loophole in legislation, which is why the law was recently revised. It is not mentioned in the report if the man was penalized. 

Himi Ladies club starts organic veggie garden: May 27: The “Himi Veggie" women's club Himi City in Toyama Prefecture, which comprises some members who are farmers, restaurant operators and office workers of various ages, recently got together to rent out a 1,000 square meter plot of fallow land to plant a summer vegetable garden, which will not utilize chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers and cultivated using mulching and no-till techniques. Heritage seedlings planted include eggplant, tomato, and oriental melon. News in Japanese here

Fukushima govt to reinforce farmers following April frost woes: May 25: The government of Fukushima Prefecture will provide financial relief to farmers whose horticulture crops suffered from freezing weather and frost damage in April, and had to bear additional expense to purchase more fertilizer, pesticides f and pesticides to reinforce tree vigor, as well as reinforce glass houses with frost-proof fanning mechanism, which will circulate and remove damaging cold air at surface level, with expense estimated to be around 1,500,000 yen ($13,649) per hectare. See news in Japanese here, and English report about Fukushima crop frost damage in April here

Japan govt assessment on Covid-19 impacts on ag: May 25: A 2020 Food and Agriculture sector assessment by Japanese authorities has been approved. The paper assessed impacts on Japan, including from export restrictions imposed by 19 countries. The paper cites survey results showing that more than 60% of farmers’ sales had been negatively affected, as well as other emerging consumer consumption  trends, in addition to a growing popularity of urban agriculture. See Japanese report here

Automatic rice transplanter demoed in Sakata City: May 13: A demonstration of an unmanned rice transplanter developed by agricultural machinery manufacturer Kubota took place in Sakata City to respond to the demands of large-scale rice production and labor shortages in the country due to the aging population, shortage of workers, and the consolidation of rice farms. The machines use satellite positioning (GPS) and are controlled via remote. On-board sensors detect obstacles and people. The machina can be operated by just 1 person instead of 3 as is the case with manually operated rice transplanters. “We have just begun to introduce the automation of rice transplanters. In the future, we will further improve the functions and link them with the work management system to further reduce the burden on producers”, remarked a Kubota company representative. Original story in Japanese here

Oki, rice planting peak season:  May 6: Paddy fields in Oki and Nakanoshima are at the peak period for rice planting. (Oki Islands Economic Newspaper) The island has 80 hectares (= 17 Tokyo Domes) of rice fields on an island with a circumference of about 90 km. In 2020, a total of more than 380 tons of glutinous rice and glutinous rice were harvested. The island self-sufficiency rate is said to exceed 100% in recent years, there has been a tendency to move the entire cultivation season forward in order to mitigate losses from the autumn typhoon season. See original story in Japanese here

Tokachi sugar beet transplanting report: May 5: The transplanting of sugar beet seedlings has reached its peak in the Tokachi area, which is a main production area of the crop in Japan, where seedlings are initially nurtured in greenhouses before being transplanted using mechanized ‘paper pot’ transplanters. Germination and transplanting work for one 10-hectare farm in Kamishihoro Town commenced between April 28 and March 15.  Last year's beet production in the jurisdiction was 1.71 million tons. More details in original Japanese report

Reviving asparagus seedlings through cloning: May 3: In Biei-chō, a town in the Kamikawa Subprefecture of Hokkaido that is one of Japan's leading asparagus producing areas, efforts are underway by the Biei-cho Agricultural Cooperative to revive seedling production for one of the town's endemic species of asparagus that has been cultivated since 1991. According to a media report, seeds of the variety, which is characterized by its softness and strong sweetness, had disappeared since 2010, and the supply of seedlings has been “cut off”.  The cooperative plans to apply cloning techniques (vegetative propagation) through cooperation with an organization from Nagoya City. Trials will be conducted this year and it is planned to distribute seedlings for full scale cultivation within two years later. Funds will be raised through crowdfunding. In 2008 the variety was cultivated on about 113 hectares in the town but cultivated area has decreased to 70% of its peak.  See original story in Japanese here

Early rice planting begins in Ibaraki: 11 Apr: In Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture, rice planting of an extremely early cultivar took place in the paddy fields under clear blue skies. The original variety was developed in Ibaraki and features large grains and a rich taste that is delicious even when eaten cold. Itako City's large-scale rice cultivation study group has been working on this variety since 2013. Harvest is expected to be around the beginning of August, and many of the locals are waiting for the new rice to be on sale in stores before Obon. Original story in Japanese here

Campaign launched to label genome edited crops: Mar 31: At the end of February, the Federation of Japanese Consumers started a campaign to force producers to label genome-edited seedlings. The move came as a response to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries allowing the cultivation and distribution of genome-edited tomatoes in December 2020. The consumer group has questioned the safety of genome-edited crops and claims that since there is no obligation to label seedlings, it is highly probable that farmers could end up unknowingly cultivating genome-edited crops. Original story in Japanese

Japanese strawberries in high demand: 11 Apr: Strawberry exports continued to climb with exports reaching 493 tons and surpassing 1 billion yen in value for the month of February. According to the Ministry of Finance's trade statistics, strawberry exports exceeded 400 tons for the second straight month since January, another record, and reaching 80% of the previous year’s total in only 2 months. Strawberries were mainly exported to countries in Asia including Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan, and also the USA. Original story in Japanese here

Rice planting season underway in Ibaraki: 11 Apr: Planting has begun for the prefecture's early rice cultivar, Hitachi 29. On April 10th, planting of seedlings by rice transplanter began in the paddy fields of Katsumi Miyamoto (62),  former chairman of a local farmers group that cooperated with the development of the cultivar, aiming for harvest and sale the Bon Festival in August. Currently, the cultivated area of Hitachi 29 is about 2 million square meters, mainly in Kago and the southern part of the prefecture. Original story in Japanese here

Varieties such as Amaou prohibited from export under revised Seedling Law: 9 Apr: A list of varieties banned from export under the revised Seedling Law was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. From April 10th, the export of seeds and seedlings overseas is prohibited for 1,975 varieties such as the celebrated Shine Muscat grape variety and Amaou strawberry from Fukuoka Prefecture. Other varieties include Beni Haruka sweet potato and Yumepirika rice from Hokkaido. Original story in Japanese here

Critics speak out against promotion of organic farming by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: 9 Apr: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has set targets to that by 2050, to reduce the amount of chemical pesticides used 50%, the use of chemical fertilizers by 30%, and to increase the percentage of land used by organic farming from the current 0.5% to 25% of the total cultivated area. However, some critics have spoken out against the targets as unrealistic. In 2018 the area of ​​agricultural land that had received JAS organix certification was only 10,850 hectares, a tiny increase from  9,937 hectares in 2013. In order to reach the goal of 25% (around 1 million hectares) by 2050, it will need to be increased at a rate of 30,000 hectares per year. Food safety experts are also concerned about plants grown without pesticides, as poisonous molds can grow in Japan’s warm and humid climate. Original story in Japanese here

New “F1 Diva” variety set to make its debut: 1 Apr: Takii & Co. will release a new colour in its popular petunia "F1 Diva" series named "F1 Diva Pink Lip", which boasts an impressive cute pink color, to commercial producers at seedling and gardening stores nationwide. The "F1 Diva" series is a completely new type of petunia that combines the properties of dwarf, compact and traditional varieties. Flowers are compact and bloom from the center of the plant without the need for a dwarfing agent, making them suitable for shipping after flowering. The plants are early flowering with a flower diameter around 7 cm and strong petals that allow them to recover from heavy rain quickly. Original story in Japanese here

Earliest space cherry blossoms flowering at Kurashiki Science Center: 1 Apr: Ezoyama cherry blossoms that were grown from seeds flown into space onboard the space shuttle, nicknamed "space cherry blossoms'', were in bloom again this year at the Kurashiki Science Center in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture. This was the earliest flowering since they were planted in the fall of 2005, and the first time the flowers have bloomed in March. Planted near the entrance of the center, the space cherry blossoms are about 5 meters high. Curator Kazuhisa Mishima said, "Twenty years have passed since the seeds returned from space. I hope you can think about the history of Japanese space development while looking at the cherry blossoms." The seeds of space cherry blossoms were put on the space shuttle on which astronaut Mamoru Mohri boarded in 2000, and spent 11 days in space. Saplings were grown in Yoichi, Hokkaido, the birthplace of Mamoru Mohri, and presented to science museums nationwide. Original story in Japanese here


Q1 News

New Rice Nursery Center Opened in Niigata Prefecture: 18 Mar: JA Echigo Joetsu's new nursery center, which covers around 560 hectares of rice fields, was completed in the Arai district of Myoko City, Niigata Prefecture, with a completion ceremony held on March 18th. It is hoped that the completed JA Echigo Joetsu Arai Nursery Center will serve to facilitate stable rice production and reduce costs. Original story in Japanese here

CBD beer product launched: Mar 2: A craft beer brewery in Mochimune, Shizuoka Prefecture, has released two types of craft beer, "Starwatcher CBD" and "Green Light", which contain 15mg of CBD per 500 ml can. The brewery claims their IPA style beer can reduce fatigue and produce a relaxing effect. CBD (CannaBiDiol) is extracted from cannabis (hemp) seeds and stems and does not contain any THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) a component of cannabis leaves, flowers, and roots that has a high psychological effect, which is regulated by the Cannabis Control Law of Japan. Ingredients extracted from seeds and stems, such as CBD, are exempt from regulation.

The Narcotics Control Department of the Kanto-Shin'etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare confirmed that the CBD product does not fall under the Cannabis Control Law, and can be used as an ingredient in edible products. Read original story in Japanese here 

Direct Sowing Rice Reduces Work by 25%: February 19: A growing trend in rice cultivation is direct seed sowing. Using this method yields are not yet stable but are steadily improving through the use of new varieties and technologies, such as small drones. The new strains, such as Emimaru, are able to sprout at low temperatures with improved germination rates and higher yields. Original story in Japanese here 

Pansies and Viola exhibition February: Feb 18: The "World Exhibition of Pansies and Violas", which plans to display 669 varieties of flowers developed by domestic seed producers and breeders, is being held at the Hana Festa Memorial Park in Kani City, Gifu Prefecture. This is the largest exhibition of its kind in the Chubu region. Now in its seventh year, this year's event will be the largest ever. Original article in Japanese here 

High school makes breakthrough in virus free tissue culture propagation: Feb 9: Nyuzen High School in Uozo City in Toyama Prefecture has announced a major step in the conservation of Kanoko-yuri flower by eliminating the "lily mottle virus (LMOV)" that infects the seedlings tissue-cultured from bulbs. The school will start full-scale cultivation of seedlings and aim for early flowering. Conservation activities began in 2017 as the virus infection of the bulbs threatened cultivation, with cooperation between Uozo City, Nyuzen High School and the Prefectural Central Botanical Garden. Original article in Japanese here 

Two new olive varieties developed: Feb 19: "Kaori No. 3" and "Kaori No. 5", new varieties that are resistant to disease and possess a distinctive flavor, have been developed by Kagawa Prefecture. This is the first time in Japan that a new variety of olive has been applied for registration. A total of 770 seedlings will be supplied with the cultivation area is expected to be 2.6 hectares with harvesting to begin in 2025. Original story in Japanese here 

Natural rubber from the guayule plant: Feb 19: Bridgestone Corporation announced on January 28 that it has succeeded in developing a technology to improve the productivity of natural rubber derived from Guayule, which is native to the southwestern part of the United States and northern Mexico, and can be cultivated in arid areas.  Through joint research with Kirin Holdings (Kirin), a technique for the stable breeding of guayule has been developed that will allow the mass to mass-production of guayule rubber tires, which the corporation aims to begin production of in the 2020s. Sourcing alternative raw materials for natural rubber for sustainability and supply chain stability has long been a target for tire manufacturers. https://www.jdt-news.co.jp/news/64400/ 

The 24th Tsubaki Festival: Feb 7: This year’s festival began on the 6th of February at the "World of Tsubakikan-Stones" tourist attraction in Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture. Visitors will be able to enjoy colorful camellias such as red, white, and pink are in full bloom until March 21st. Approximately 600 species and 700 camellias from Japan and overseas are included in the exhibition. Original story in Japanese here 

Yokote City announces snow damage subsidy: Feb 5: Yokote City, in Akita Prefecture, announced on the 4th of February that it will subsidize half of the restoration cost to farmers and agricultural corporations in the city that were damaged by the record heavy snowfall this winter, expected to total 3.3 million USD. The city will subsidize the cost of removing and rebuilding damaged agricultural greenhouses, as well as the cost of removing snow, spraying snow-melting agents, and purchasing seeds and seedlings. Original story in Japanese here 

Akita Prefecture agriculture damage from heavy snow: Feb 1: At least 630 greenhouses for paddy rice seedlings have been damaged by heavy snowfall over the winter in Akita Prefecture, causing concern among local officials that seedlings will not be ready in time for rice planting. As of the 25th January, it has been estimated that the damage exceeded USD 9.7 million. The prefecture is providing technical assistance to farmers. Read original story in Japanese here

New emergency measure for tomato, pepper seed imports: Starting March 5th, 2021, seeds and plants of tomato and peppers imported into Japan must be certified by the National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO) of exporting countries as being free from Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) based on an RT-PCR Assay. For specific details and mandates of the new emergency measure, download the notifying document from the WTO website here.

ISF welcomes gene-edited tomato notification in Japan: January 2021: The International Seed Federation (ISF) welcomes the announcement of the first voluntary notification of genome edited high-GABA tomato in Japan. The Japanese ministries in charge announced their determination that the genome edited GABA tomato will not be regulated as a genetically modified product. Read full announcement by ISF here

NARO develops predictive ‘genome selection AI’ for rice breeding: January 2021: On January 8, the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) announced that it has successfully developed AI powered gene selection capabilities that make it possible to predict important traits such as rice yield and quality, and thereby accelerating rice breeding efforts. Using conventional crossing and selection breeding methods, it could take as much as 10 years to develop a new rice variety, but with the latest application of genome selection AI, "it can be expected to reduce the time required for rice breeding by about two years. Read coverage in Japanese here

Revised Seed and Seedling Law effective in April: January 2021: Seed IP and Plant Breeders Rights stand to be strengthened when the revised seed and seedling protection law comes into force this April. As covered in various Japanese media, the revised law, which got a nod from the Diet in December, will criminalize unauthorized outflow of protected seeds and seedlings. Individual violators of the law can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of not more than 10 million yen, while violating corporations face fines of up to 300 million yen. Stricter regulation had been proposed following concernsthat some popular, protected Japanese vegetable and fruit varieties had been smuggled out of Japan and reproduced abroad to the dismay of IP rights holders. Read coverage in Japanese here as well as here

2020 News

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Fusarium Root Rot of sweet potatoes in Shizuoka: December 2020:
The Shizuoka Prefectural Pest Control Station has confirmed cases of sweet potato (Fusarium) root rot for the first time in the prefecture. According to media, citing a Special Bulletin No. 4 issued on December 23, “yellowing and wilting of stems and leaves, blackening of stems and tuberous roots were confirmed in the kansho field in the western part of the prefecture [linked to an ] outbreak in November.” The diagnostic was reportedly confirmed by the Kyushu Okinawa Agricultural Research Center of the Agricultural Research Organization. Cases had previously been reported in the Okinawa Prefecture in 2018, and later in Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kochi prefectures. More details in Japanese here.

Gene-edited tomatoes get green light: December 2020:
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on December 11 approved the production and sale of a gene-edited tomato. The tomato, developed as a cooperation between startup, Sanatech Seed and the University of Tsukuba. According to this Nikkei Asia report, “the fruit features five times the normal amount of GABA, an amino acid linked to lower blood pressure, thanks to tweaks to genes that normally limit GABA production.”. The non trans-genic fruit reportedly took 15 years to develop. Sanatech Seed, which is a startup formed out of the University, will start to sell seedlings for home gardens in the spring of 2021 via online channels, and plans to launch seed sales to large-scale producers in the fall. 

 

Amended Seeds and Seedlings Law strict on IP: December 2020:
A bill to amend Japan’s Seeds and Seedlings Law was passed by the Japanese Diet on December 2. The revised law, now dubbed the Seeds and Seedlings Protection law, as reported here by Japan Times, is expected to take effect in April, and will “allow plant breeders to designate areas where their varieties can be grown and export destinations when they register their species''. The bill which has been liberated by the Japanese legislative branch since earlier this year, was drafted as part of efforts to crack down on the “illicit outflow from the country of cultivars developed through plant breeding.” According to the above article and other  detailed reports in the Japanese media, including this report on Yahoo, and this one here as well as this one, unauthorized reproduction of such varieties outside of designated areas and/or in violation of licensing terms could carry hefty prison sentences and fines for violators. The amendment was proposed on the basis of widespread claims of illegal reproduction of Japanese fruits and vegetables in neighboring countries. Read more detailed break-down of the ammended law here.

 

AUGUST 2020

Scrutinizing seed coat evolution hypotheses through fossils and genomics

Professor Toshihiro Yamada of Osaka City University has been diligently seeking to shed more light on the evolutionary mechanisms behind the formation of protective seed coatings. According to this report, the professor has considered and scrutinized a number of prevailing hypotheses and theories on the subject, including the telome theory through the work of ate German botanist Dr. Walter M. Chimmelmann as well as other hypotheses related to spore and embryo formation (polysporangiophytes via Dr. Paul Kendrick). The Japanese professor has studied fossils and conducted experiments with relative genes (BEL1, WUS, CNA , PHB , PHV) and may have brought clearer, alternative understanding on the subject, as explained in detail in Japanese here

Invasive wildflower evades Fukushima plant protection eradication, boars blamed

Plant Protection authorities in Fukushima are struggling to eradicate the Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), which continues to spread and evade eradication efforts that have been carried out for the past decade. According to this article, the invasive wildflower, native to North America, was introduced as an ornamental plant during the Meija era (circa 1868 to 1912) but rapidly propagated beyond gardens and into the wild, posing a significant threat to many other native wildflower species. Though authorities had successfully destroyed traces of millions of the flowers last year, the species is said to continue to spread. It is hypothesized that thriving wild boar populations looking for earthworms have inadvertently dug up and exposed dormant seeds. 

Tracing the origins of the famed ‘Kanazawa Futoshi’ cucumber

An article recounts the story behind the “Kanazawa Futoshi” a popular large variety of cucumber from Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. The development of the cucumber can be traced back to the early Showa period, when “Kanazawa Setsuna” cucumbers were grown at temple near Kuan. By the Autumn of 1936, a farmer named Toshio Yonebayashi was given seeds of the cucumber, which he distributed to neighboring farmers. Following the war (WW2), there was increased demand for agricultural products and food crops. An industrial workshop was set up in Kuan, and Yonebayashi focused on tomato cultivation and acquired germplasm of thick cucumber varieties from a seedling company in Kyoto. Read more in Japanese here

Seeds for survival

An article, which brings attention to the current process for amending Japan’s seed law, highlights the story of a 15-year-old fresh high-school graduate in February 2018 who started a business to sell and distribute seeds of traditional vegetables, which he collected from various parts of Japan and bred and preserved himself. 

Students to multiply seeds of endangered plants 

Students of the Department of Industrial Science at Iwata Agricultural High School in Shizuoka Prefecture were asked by the Governor to help increase stocks of seeds of various endangered plants The students will be provided with specimens of viable seeds that have been frozen and preserved at the "Fujinokuni Museum of Global Environmental History" and multiply them as part of their coursework. Story in Japanese here

 

JUNE AND JULY, 2020

Optimistic for seeds, seedling business recovery

According to this financial report in Japanese media, there is some optimism for a recovery of the seeds and seedlings business. The report notes that although there have been concerns about the impacts of Covid-19 situation on the domestic farming and international trade, the seed and seedling business in Japan is expected to recover, specifically with regard to the export of cabbage seeds and domestic sale of pumpkin seeds. 

Seed regulations enacted in 21 prefectures

It has been two years since Japan’s Main Crop Seed law was abolished. The law had established public responsibility for the supply of seeds for major crops such as rice, wheat, barley and soybeans, and thus opened the door for private sector production in these crops. Since the law was established, there has reportedly been a vacuum and thus shortage of seed supply in many areas, prompting the need to enact prefecture level regulations According to a recently published summary by the “Japan Seed Protecting Society,” such seed regulations were enacted in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Niigata, Nagano, Toyama, Ishikawa. , Fukui, Aichi, Mie, Gifu, Hyogo, Tottori, Hiroshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima. Ordinances have already been enforced in 18 prefectures, but not yet Gunma, Mie and Hiroshima. In addition, the Iwate Prefectural Assembly adopted a petition requesting the establishment of ordinances submitted by the Iwate Food and Agriculture Net in March 2019. 

Tropical ‘ghost orchid’ found growing in temperate hills of west Tokyo

The ghost orchid (Epipogium roseum) known in Japanese as Tashiroran, and which can only be seen during the rainy season, is classified as a semi- endangered species by the Ministry of the Environment. According to this Japanese article it was surprisingly found growing in the hilly areas of western Tokyo. 

Osaka research: agrobacterial mutagenesis could accelerate gene-editing

Researchers from Osaka University  “infected potato with Agrobacterium tumefaciens harboring TALEN-expression vector targeting sterol side chain reductase 2 (SSR2) gene and regenerated shoots without selection. They obtained regenerated lines with disrupted-SSR2 gene and without transgene of the TALEN gene, revealing that their disruption should be caused by transient gene expression. The strategy using transient gene expression by Agrobacterium that we call Agrobacterial mutagenesis, developed here should accelerate the use of genome-editing technology to modify heterozygous plant genomes. The study is reported by ISAAA here, and original study here.

 

MAY 2020

Proposed Seed Bill amendment discussed in Diet but enactment postponed

On 20 May, Japan’s ruling party decided not to put the revised seed bill to a vote — either out of caution, owing to political opposition, or because of requests from civil groups for further deliberation. Seed groups have called for more public discussion before the Diet again considers it. On 19 May, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Taku Eto said of proposed amendment to the Seed and Seedling Law that the issue was “not yet decided,” adding, however: “Even if the Seed and Seedling Law is amended, nothing will change” in domestic markets. He said revision is necessary because “certain export commodities such as strawberries had leaked overseas owing to self-propagation” and that “registration of varieties cannot stop the outflow under the current legal system.”

Watermelon with micro-sized edible seeds

Following 16 years of breeding research and development, a new type of watermelon with a minimal number of micro-sized edible seeds has been launched by a Japanese company. According to publicity material (in Japanese), the watermelon now has been planted across Japan — with resulting national attention.

Sakata Launching New Vegetables and Flowers

Starting in June, Sakata Seeds will launch eight new seed products, including several vegetables and flowers. Vegetables include varieties of stem broccoli and kohlrabi. More details in Japanese here. Sakata is also taking orders for two new “dwarf” button flowers, as announced on its website here.

 

APRIL 2020

Proposed seed law amendments seek stronger breeder rights protection

A bill to amend Japan’s Seeds and Seedling Law was submitted to the Diet in April. According to an article in Japanese language, the proposed amendments, which had been approved by Cabinet in March, aim to establish measures to curb the outflow of certain varieties from Japan while providing more IP protection for breeders and innovators. Under the current law it is legal to export registered varieties once the PVP protection period has expired. And while it is already illegal to propagate or sell registered varieties without license, it is reportedly difficult for authorities to track or enforce this aspect, the article notes. Proposed amendments stipulate that owners of protected varieties (such as breeders or institutions) would be able to specify conditions such as the target destination country and cultivation area, with strict penalties imposed for violation of said conditions, including up to 10 years imprisonment and up to 10 million yen fine. Japan has two main categories of sowing seed: general varieties and registered varieties, whereas the general varieties include “conventional” varieties, varieties that have not been registered, and/or varieties whose registration validity period has expired. Another article notes a push by a ‘seed protection committee’ on April 9 for deliberation on the amendment to be postponed due to the coronavirus situation.  Another comprehensive report by Yahoo Japan here provides more background on the Seed and Seedling law, and details opposition based on the so called ‘farmers rights’ perspective. 

Nagano prefecture seed security regulation in force

Maninichi Japan news reports that new prefecture-level regulations concerning seeds of main crops and traditional vegetables are now in effect. As reported earlier this year, several prefectures started to draft and implement such regulations to clarify prefecture government roles and obligations in seed supply and thus address seed security concerns raised following the abolition in 2018 of the country’s Main Seed Crops law, which no longer obligated the government to ensure staple crop seed supply, and thus promote participation of the private sector in seed production of these crops. 

Sakata to launch new mizuna, pak choy varieties

Leading Japanese seed company, Sakata, has circulated details in local media about some of its upcoming planned leafy-green vegetable releases. These include a new early-maturing, fusarium-resistant, winter cultivar of mizuna (Brassica rapa var. nipposinica). More details in Japanese here. And a high-yielding, heat-resistant pak-choy cultivar, details here. Both are expected to be launched in Japan this coming June. 

Sakata to expand into lettuce market with acquisition of California company

Sakata Seed America, a subsidiary of Sakata Seeds has acquired “Vanguard Seed”, a lettuce seed company based in Salinas, California. The news, announced in both Japanese and English language media, affirms that Vanguard’s genetic resources and operations and personnel for breeding, seed production, sales and marketing will be integrated under the Sakata brand.

 

DECEMBER 2019 & JANUARY 2020

Rice farmers diversify into other crops in wake of staple seed law abolition 

Miyanichi Press reports on efforts to support rice farmers in the Miyazaki prefecture to diversify cultivation into high-value crops such as vegetables. The news, in Japanese language, cites reports of declining incomes for rice farmers said to linked to the recent abolition of Japan’s Main Crops Seed Law, which effectively ended tax-funded government subsidization for the production and supply of staple crop seeds such as rice, maize and soybean, and thus attempt to attract private-sector investment. 

Prefecture-level seed ordinances trending

Sankei News reports that there is an increasing trend of enacting prefecture-level “seed security” ordinances in response to impacts from the abolition of Japan’s Main Crops Seed Law in 2018. According to the article, in Japanese language, such ordinances, which establish regulations, guidelines and seed production subsidization mechanisms, have been enacted in Saitama, Niigata and Hyogo, while similar acts are soon expected to follow in Nagano (as reported in Asahi), Hokkaido, and in Okinawa according to another report by Ronza Web. It was previously reported that the national law was abolished in order to enable the private sector to have a role in seed production of staple crops. In the absence now of the conventional state-subsidized seed supply system, some farmer groups, however, are reportedly struggling to procure quality seeds at competitive prices, which has been reported in Japanese media as one possible reason for rising crop prices. 

New Japanese Vegetable Varieties publication out

Seibundo Shinkosha Co., Ltd. has released the 20th edition of its “New Vegetable Varieties” publication, which lists 183 newly registered vegetables varieties. The publication comes out approximately every three years since 1959. In addition to listing and detailing the new varieties, the publication also summarizes the changes in Japanese vegetable varieties over the past 60 years for each item. The publication, available in Japanese, can be procured via various online channels. Its ISBN is 978-4-416-61936-0

Native Japanese varieties book

In related news, “Japanese varieties are amazing: The story about delicious plants (Chuko Shinsho) features stories behind 268 varieties of staple Japanese fruits and vegetables: potato, pears, apples, radish, wasabi and soybeans.  

Native Seed Library in Okinawa lends out ‘seed books’

One Okinawan woman has modified her book shop and cafe in Nahu city to feature a “Seed Library”, where she lends out books of seeds of traditional crops, which borrowers can take for free on the condition that they multiply the seeds and return the added seeds to the collection.