Heat wave affecting food production in Japan

JAPAN - An unusually rich haul of tuna has come from typically cooler waters in Hokkaido. Lettuce harvested in highlands in Nagano Prefecture are much smaller and higher in price. Fatigued dairy cows are not producing as much milk. These are some examples of how a record heat wave has been affecting food production in this country.

"Lettuce roots will go rotten and become vulnerable to disease if we continue to see a heat wave or torrential rains," said Norio Kawakami, a farmer in Kawakami, Nagano Prefecture, the nation's biggest lettuce production centre. "I'm constantly worried, because it's much warmer than usual."

At 1,400 meters above sea level, the village is ideal for growing lettuce, which is susceptible to heat. But the produce shipped in mid-July was smaller than normal due to the heat and sparse rain earlier that month, giving it a lower ranking in the market.

Since the mercury dropped somewhat in late July, the size of lettuce being harvested now is normal. A good amount of rain in late July also helped. However, the scorching heat and torrential rains of early August are expected to hamper the growth of lettuce.

The changing weather conditions are causing lettuce prices to fluctuate widely. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market's Ota market that handles the largest volume of vegetables and fruits in Japan, the price of lettuce soared to ¥1,869 per 10 kilograms in mid-July, an about 2.5-fold increase from the same period the previous year. Although the price dropped to ¥1,225 in the first week of August, it rose to ¥1,383, 20 per cent higher than last year, in the second week.

A daily average of 306 tons of lettuce was shipped to the market in the second week of this month, down 90 tons from late June.

Other leafy vegetables are also being priced higher than the same period last year, when bumper harvests pushed their prices lower. Cabbage is priced 70 per cent higher, while the price of hakusai Chinese cabbage is up 50 per cent.

The heat is also affecting dairy cows. According to J Milk, a Tokyo group of dairy farmers and other milk producers, the amount of fresh milk produced in July was down 2.2 per cent from the same month last year.

"Cows are tired because of the heat," a spokesman of the group said. "I'm afraid that milk production may decrease further."

Unusually large fish haul

Due to rises in sea temperatures as a result of the scorching summer heat, bluefin tuna hauls have increased markedly off the eastern coast of Hokkaido. According to an official of a fish market in Kushiro, Hokkaido, an average of 5 bluefin tuna are caught in early August. However, this year, as many as 120 bluefin tuna were put on the market as of Monday. At a fishing port of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the total bonito catch was 6,800 tons in July, or 1.7 times the 3,900 tons caught in the same month last year.

Tomoo Watanabe, head of the Research Center for Fisheries Oceanography and Marine Ecosystem at the Fisheries Research Agency, said, "Warm water masses were created around Hokkaido, and migratory fish including tuna that prefer warm water have been gathering there."

However, if sea temperatures around Japan remain high, the Pacific saury catch could be negatively affected.