Hiromae City, Aomori Prefecture, is known to be the birthplace of the Japanese apple production method. Toshihiko Moriyama, who runs an apple farm, has continued for generations in that area. We will be working to develop “ADAM”, a tool to visualize apple production and the manufacture of processed products. I will send you the future of apple farmers, which Mr. Moriyama thinks, on three occasions. In the first part, we will discuss the importance of measuring work costs and the challenges faced by apple farmers.
Identify the tree and calculate the exact cost of making an apple
“ADAM” is a cloud system that can record apple production jobs. By attaching an identification tag called a “tree tag” to the apple tree and reading the QR code printed on the card with a smartphone app, you can record when and what kind of work was done on each tree . By accurately capturing work costs, you can improve or reduce work that is ineffective.
Before developing ADAM, I used to record work using tree tags. The current tree tag is a hexagonal cut tree covered with vinyl with the plant, the planting site and the QR code printed on it and hung on the tree. At the beginning of development, the synthetic paper was wrapped directly around the wood, but it faded and damaged as the wood grew, so we improved and stabilized the current shape.
The establishment is essential to continue large-scale farms
Job visualization is essential to running a large-scale apple plantation. My home is an apple farmer for 140 years since the mid-Meiji period. My oldest son, me, was defaulting early. After graduating from college, I worked on my farm while also devoted to the mountain bike competition. Since I quit cycling at the age of 35, I have focused on growing apples.
When deciding to focus on making apples, my family had an apple field of 8.7 ha, but did not combine cultivation. The work itself also has outsiders to help, but called family business, Saturday, Sunday without rest is natural. I felt that there was a limit to continuing in that state, so I decided to incorporate it.
If it is incorporated, the president should focus on the management and leave the work on the staff. To do this, we first need to identify the apple tree. I grow more than 20 varieties of apples on my farm, but even when a part-time employee looks at the tree, I can’t tell which ones. On the contrary, they may not know how far they are on their farm, and when they find themselves grooming trees in the next field. Only people like me who have been in the fields every day since I was a child can know.
If you identify a tree with a tree tag, you can provide instructions such as “Do work of △△ in tree ☓☓ in the ●● zone”, and the performance can be improved. In addition, by recording the work for each tree, it is possible to measure the labor costs of producing an apple. In management, the calculation of cost is natural. With such a background, I made a tree card.
That labor value is lower than the minimum wage
I actually did a job transcription and was shocked to see the cost. When the labor cost is discounted by the selling price, the value created by the labor is less than the minimum wage. It is negative depending on the variety. In other words, the more apples you make, the more red you will get. I thought it would be less profitable than I expected, but it was beyond my imagination.
Apple production is often manual and laborious. “Prune” to trim excess branches so that all berries are exposed to sunlight, “pick fruit” to remove excess fruit, and “remove leaves” to red in sunlight. All the hard work done with one machine, such as “actual spinning”. In addition, many farmers practice “kibana”, which is removing leftover flowers before they bear fruit, and “bagging”, covering each fruit with a bag to improve quality.
However, even if it does take time, it may not lead to an increase in value. Bagging, for example. It is true that the colors become brighter, the selling price increases and the storage time is longer, but in most cases, the cost of work increases and profits decrease. In other words, we are increasing our worthless labor.
Apple farmers are severely lacking in successors, but if it doesn’t make a profit, it’s natural. For the apple fields in Hiromae to exist, I think it is necessary to create a proper profit-generating system.
You can make delicious apples even with saving labor
So I decided to stop working without creating value. In addition, we reduced production of red-colored varieties and narrowed profitable varieties.
We sometimes get critical feedback on labor efficiency and savings. Japanese products are of high quality because they are made with time and effort. However, compared with efficiently produced overseas apples, the selling price when queuing at the supermarket is nearly the same. Labor savings will certainly increase the number of low-quality apples, but it’s a good story if you don’t sort and distribute them. Instead, if we can automate the categorization, we can focus on higher quality products than the ones currently on the market.
In the United States, I heard that part-time jobs on an apple plantation exceed 3,000 yen an hour. I think the Japanese method of apple production that spans 200 years is approaching a turning point.
A new possibility is to use fruit pruning for disposal. Increase profits from exclusive outsourced products.
Going to the apple plantation will bring Hiromae’s future. To overcome a negative start.