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From the land of sunshine

ANN/YOMIURI SHIMBUN – To reinforce its status as the “fruit kingdom,” Okayama Prefecture is introducing Hareichigo, a novel strawberry variety.

While Shine Muscat grapes and peaches dominate the prefecture’s agricultural landscape during summer to autumn, there’s anticipation that the introduction of Hareichigo will extend the prefecture’s market influence year-round, addressing the gap in marketing during winter through spring.

The prefecture made Hareichigo a branded product in 2019. The strawberries are characterised by their large size, red flesh – even inside the pulp – and strong sweet taste.

Growing them in greenhouses in the prefecture, which has long hours of sunshine, is said to increase photosynthesis in strawberries and make them sweeter. The prefecture is known as the “Land of Sunshine.”

In 2019, the prefectural government made a manual for the cultivation of Hareichigo, detailing conditions such as the timing of fertiliser application, temperatures that differ according to the growth of the fruits and the concentration of carbon dioxide to be injected into greenhouses to promote photosynthesis.

Hareichigo strawberries are seen in Higashi Ward, Okayama City. PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN

Oi-C Berry strawberries, that have been cultivated in the prefecture, will be shipped as Hareichigo only after being grown in accordance with the manual. “Compared to other strawberries, it is not easy to grow Hareichigo. It takes a lot of time and effort (to cultivate them). But in return, Hareichigo ensures larger fruits with stronger flavour,” said Keisaku Nasu, 76, a farmer in Higashi Ward, Okayama City, who has been producing strawberries for more than 40 years. The manual is revised every year, and according to the prefectural government, the quality of the strawberries has also been improving year by year.

Since the Hareichigo pulp contains less water compared to other strawberries, the variety is said to have a longer shelf life and suitable for shipping to distant areas. In Tokyo, the main market for Hareichigo, the variety is also handled by high-end fruit stores. About 6.9 tonnes of Hareichigo produced in 2022 were dealt with at Ota Market in Tokyo, an about five-fold increase from 2019.

Price per kilogramme in Tokyo now ranks fourth among all 47 prefectures, after Nara, Hokkaido and Saitama prefectures.

Many wholesalers, especially in Tokyo are said to have asked for more shipments of Hareichigo as they want to deal with a certain amount of them.

The Hareichigo-cultivation area increased to 4.9 hectares in 2022, about double the amount in 2019, but it is not enough to satisfy the demands. Growers have been unable to expand cultivation as much as they would like due to skyrocketing prices of materials and fuel, sources said.

To cope with the situation, the prefectural government will help expand the project to supply more fruit in fiscal 2024, by subsidising costs to repair greenhouses not being used.

It also asked the prefectural assembly at its regular meeting in February to allocate a budget to support the introduction of equipment that can automatically control the temperature and carbon dioxide concentration in greenhouses.

Shipments of Hareichigo will peak by the end of March.

The prefectural government hopes that successful promotion of itself as the all-year-round fruit kingdom will bring about a synergistic effect to other fruits. – Masato Nakayasu

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