From 400 million yen in debt…behind the scenes of the “Hokkaido Mangoes in the Dead of Winter” expansion to Hong Kong | FRIDAY DIGITAL

From 400 million yen in debt…behind the scenes of the “Hokkaido Mangoes in the Dead of Winter” expansion to Hong Kong

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Why Mangoes in Hokkaido in Winter…

In December last year, fully ripe mangoes from the Tokachi region of eastern Hokkaido, an extremely cold region where the minimum temperature can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius, were shipped to Hong Kong, the kingdom of mango sweets. The “Silvery Sun” is produced by Hiroyuki Nakagawa, 60, who was born in Tokachi. This is the first time that Hokkaido-grown mangoes have landed overseas.

Mangoes with a sugar content of 15 degrees or higher are differentiated as “Silver Sun” and those with a sugar content of 11-14.9 degrees as “Tokachi Mango. About 4,000 mangoes will be harvested this season and shipped until January 20. They can be purchased from the official website.
A special harvest net is attached to the mango tree, and the ripe fruit “falls” into the net. When they fall, they are ready to be harvested.

Ninety percent of the “Silver Sun” mangoes with a sugar content of over 15 degrees are sold in Tokyo, and they are popular as gifts for Christmas and New Year holidays at Senbikiya and department stores. Mangoes with lower sugar content are also highly valued as ingredients for cakes and parfaits at high-end sweets stores in Tokyo. The price of the Silver Sun ranges from 6,500 to 30,000 yen per piece, depending on the size. In Hong Kong, the price is said to have more than doubled at a supermarket for the wealthy.

Mangoes are one of the most popular tropical fruits, mainly produced in Okinawa, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. Even though Tokachi is one of Japan’s leading agricultural regions, I had no idea that mangoes were even being produced there. And the harvest season is in the middle of winter.

I’m often asked, “Why do you grow mangoes in Hokkaido in winter? “People often ask me, ‘Why do you grow mangoes in Hokkaido in winter? Mr. Nakagawa laughs.

Mr. Nakagawa laughs as he says this. Mr. Nakagawa says that he started producing mangoes when he met Isao Nagakura, a mango farmer in Nichinan City, Miyazaki Prefecture.

When I visited Nichinan City in April 2010 as part of a project supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Mr. Nagakura happened to be sitting next to me at a party in the evening. By chance, I found out that we had a mutual friend in Canada, and we hit it off and shared some shochu.

Eventually, he started talking about his dream of producing mangoes at Christmas time, and I said, “Miyazaki is a tropical country, so we can’t produce mangoes. Miyazaki is too tropical to produce mangoes, but Hokkaido can. I thought he was getting drunk, so I changed the subject and ended the day.

However, for some reason, I couldn’t get Mr. Nagakura’s story out of my mind the next day. Mr. Nakagawa wanted to see the mangoes on the trees, so he went to Mr. Nagakura’s farm.

When he entered the house, he found an abundance of magnificent mangoes. Since people in Hokkaido are not familiar with fruit farms, I was so moved by the sight before me that I couldn’t help but ask Mr. Nagakura, “Do you really think you can grow mangoes in Hokkaido? He immediately replied, “It should be possible. Hearing those words, I had a dream.

When he returned to his hometown, he immediately approached his fellow businessmen in Tokachi, saying that he would like to take on the challenge of growing mangoes to revitalize the region. All of them were vehemently opposed. He went around to various quarters, but no one would listen to him. Unable to give up, Mr. Nakagawa decided to invite Mr. Nagakura to Tokachi five months later.

I asked him to tell me about the possibilities of how to produce mangoes in Hokkaido in the middle of winter.

In Miyazaki, mangoes are also grown in greenhouses, blooming from December to February and harvested in May and June. If they were to be harvested in winter, the flowers would have to bloom in August, which would require the mangoes to think it was winter in June and July. In Miyazaki, it would be difficult to create a winter atmosphere in the greenhouses at that time of year, but Mr. Nagakura’s idea was that it would not be impossible in Hokkaido, where it is cool even in summer.

A producer’s story is very convincing. As soon as I heard him say, ‘I think we can make it,’ everyone started to say, ‘Maybe we can.

Morale rose quickly, and 11 local volunteers, including myself, invested 500,000 yen each. It was decided to start a trial cultivation project, aiming for a harvest in June, the same time as in Miyazaki.

Mangoes ready to be harvested are growing in greenhouses surrounded by snow. This scene can only be seen in Hokkaido.
A snow and ice storage facility was installed at a cost of about 200 million yen. It is filled with water to create a thick layer of ice, and then covered with tree bark to insulate the snow that accumulates on top of the ice, creating an energy store of snow and ice.

Change of thinking! Reversing the seasons in the house with snow that used to be a nuisance

Mr. Nakagawa is not originally a farmer. His main businesses are warehousing and oil sales. However, he had never thought of using oil to grow mangoes.

I was conflicted about whether I should be in the oil business at a time when people are talking about environmental protection,” he said. It makes no sense to use oil to produce tropical fruits in Hokkaido. Only by using natural energy can we expand the potential of the region. With this in mind, I decided not to use any oil for mango cultivation.

First, we decided to use hot springs for heating energy. That’s why we decided to rent a plot of land with a hot spring when we built the test house.

The test greenhouse was completed in November 2010. In November 2010, the test cultivation house was completed and 10 saplings given by Mr. Nagakura were planted there. At the same time, Mr. Nakagawa started going to Mr. Nagakura’s farm to learn about cultivation techniques.

When he went to learn for the first time, the chairman of the mango growers’ group asked Mr. Nagakura, “Why should I teach the cultivation techniques that we have worked so hard to develop to a complete stranger? I wanted to run away.

Even so, he continued to visit Mr. Nagakura once a month for a year and a half, while at the same time preparing to start a new business.

In February 2011, three months after the start of the experimental cultivation, he established Noraworks Japan, and in March he registered the “Silver Sun” trademark.

In June, the first mangoes were harvested in Tokachi, but it wasn’t until December of that year that he was convinced he could make it. However, it was December of that year when we succeeded in harvesting mangoes in the middle of winter.

In March of the following year, a new steel-framed greenhouse was completed. The construction cost was 50 million yen. He received a subsidy of 30 million yen from the “One Village, One Carbon” project (now the “One Village, One Energy” project) promoted by Hokkaido, and borrowed the shortfall.

In the house, Mr. Nakagawa started growing mangoes in earnest.

We grow mangoes in Hokkaido by reversing the seasons in the house from the original seasons, and we use road heating for this purpose. To achieve this, we use road heating. Pipes are laid under the ground in the greenhouses, and hot springs are circulated in the winter to raise the ground temperature. In addition, we use the local waste oil collection system to heat the house by boiling the tempura oil from households.

In summer, we use snow and ice stored during the winter. Snow and ice stored during the winter are used in the summer, and antifreeze cooled by heat exchange of snowmelt from the snow and ice storage is pumped into the ground of the greenhouses to keep the ground temperature at about 7℃. By changing our way of thinking, we have been able to turn snow, which we used to think of as a nuisance, into effective energy.

During the trial cultivation, Mr. Nakagawa had developed a system to reverse the winter and summer seasons. This opened up the possibility of growing mangoes that can be harvested in winter.

My style is to try things first. It is my style to try things first, and it suits me better to think about things as I practice them.

In December 2012, the “Silver Sun” harvested in the new greenhouse was shipped on a trial basis. It was sold at a department store in Tokyo at a high price of over 50,000 yen per unit, which attracted a lot of attention. In 2015, after the full-scale shipment started, it was decided to sell them at Sembikiya.

In Hokkaido, there are no insect pests during the fruiting season, so we don’t need to use pesticides. We don’t have to use pesticides because there are no insect pests in Hokkaido during the fruiting season, and we don’t need to take measures to prevent mold because of the low humidity. The berries don’t sweat, so they don’t have a peculiar sourness and have a strong sweetness. Safe I believe that these safe mangoes are a product of Hokkaido’s fundamental strength.

Until last year, there was one staff member, but this season, he handles everything from cultivation to harvesting by himself. But for the past 10 years, I haven’t received a single yen from Noraworks,” Nakagawa says.

The potential of agriculture… “Tokachi in winter may become a major producer of tropical fruits.

Currently, the number of greenhouses for cultivation has increased to three. There is also a huge snow and ice storage facility on the premises to store snow. The new one was built in 2018. The following year, they started growing mangoes in three greenhouses.

We received a loan of 350 million yen from the Japan Finance Corporation and another 500 million yen from other financial institutions. Two greenhouses for 200 million yen, and a snow and ice storage facility for 200 million yen; borrowing a whopping four cowardly yen was of course not in my life plan.

In fact, I should have completed the new facility and started cultivation in 2014. The reason it was delayed for five years was because I was looking for subsidies. The reason for the five-year delay was that I was looking for subsidies. People who think that farmers who try to rely on subsidies are wrong were looking for subsidies when I was about to start farming. It’s completely against my policy. If I didn’t start building a new facility, even with debt, I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of farming I was aiming for. With the backing of the local credit union, I finally made up my mind.

I have planted 330 trees in three greenhouses now, and I plan to realize the shipment of 30,000 units in six to seven years. If we can reach 100 million yen in sales while paying off our debt over the next 10 years, we will be able to use the profits for our next development.

However, increasing profits is not Mr. Nakagawa’s only goal. In the future, he is aiming for “cascade farming,” in which the hot springs are used in stages.

The hot spring heat used in the greenhouses now can be used even after growing mangoes, but it is thrown away. The hot spring heat used in the greenhouses is now being thrown away even though it can be used after growing mangoes. I would like to make cascade farming, which reduces the burden on the environment by effectively using natural energy, a new style of farming in Tokachi.

In the case of field crops, there is no work in the winter. In the future, if we can grow not only mangoes but also papayas and lychees in the winter, we can create stable employment in field crops all year round. As the possibilities of agriculture expand, more and more new people will enter the field. Perhaps Tokachi in winter will become a major producer of tropical fruits.

Why mangoes in Hokkaido? I want to make the most of Tokachi’s strengths and revitalize the region. In a word, that may be our main objective.

With the vast Tokachi Plain as his stage, Mr. Nakagawa’s dream will expand as far as it goes.

For the official website of Noraworks, click here.

  • Reporting, writing, photography Sayuri Saito

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