The nuclear crisis in the prefecture is apparently behind the declines, although the cherries are selling as well as usual at retail stores, partly because of campaigns to support farm products from the prefecture.
As he removed leaves of Satonishiki cherries, Tamio Kaneko, 71, of the Iizakamachi district of Fukushima, said proudly, “This will make these cherries become even redder.”
Satonishiki cherries, which Kaneko grew in a greenhouse, were served to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak when they visited Fukushima ahead of the trilateral summit meeting held in Tokyo in May.
According to JA Shin-Fukushima, an agricultural cooperative, this year’s Satonishiki cherries taste especially good thanks to the good weather. The cooperative expects to ship about 28 tons of the cherries this year. The price is about 3,000 yen per kilogram.
A wholesaler at the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market said the price and shipping volume of cherries produced in Fukushima Prefecture are the same as in usual years.
An official of the division of agricultural products distribution in the Fukushima prefectural government said the increasing number of shops supporting Fukushima products outside the prefecture was behind the positive results.
The official said: “Operators of retail stores are beginning to realize the safety of our products. But we need to watch the situation as the peak in production of our vegetables and fruits approaches.”
Kaneko feels uneasy as he has not received many orders from customers to whom he directly sells cherries for use as gifts. “I don’t know whether it’s due to the accidents at the nuclear power plant, but the situation is tough,” he said.
Kenichi Momiyama, 71, whose farm is in the same district of the city as Kaneko’s, also is worried. One-third of his cherry production is for gift use. One of his customers canceled orders, saying, “I was planning to send cherries to my grandchildren, but their parents objected.”
Momiyama said: “Some people are supporting our cherries because they are produced in Fukushima Prefecture. I just want to concentrate on harvesting cherries.”
The situation is more serious at pick-your-own farms, where tourists can pick fruits such as cherries, peaches and grapes themselves.
Fukushimashi Kanko Noen Kyokai, an association of pick-your-own farms in Fukushima, asked Kan to attend a joint ceremony marking the opening of the picking season, which was held on June 19 to help dispel fears caused by rumors about radiation, but the request was declined.
Although the prefectural government declared the cherries safe in May, the association’s member farms continued to lose customers and have seen more than 90 percent of reservations canceled.
Department stores canceled catalog sales, and reservation sales at high-end fruit shops have been sluggish.
Association Chairman Shinichi Katahira, 57, said: “Unless the crisis [at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant] is brought under control, the situation will remain the same next year and beyond.
“We don’t know whether and to what extent we will be compensated. We really don’t know what to do.”
An official at the prefectural government said cherries produced in Fukushima Prefecture were expected to qualify for compensation under the second guideline issued by a government panel. But whether pick-your-own farms also qualify is not clear, the official added.
“We’ve been calling on the government to acknowledge losses at pick-your-own farms as part of damage in the tourism industry caused by harmful rumors,” the official said.
Hirotada Hirose, a professor emeritus at Tokyo Women’s Christian University and specialist on disaster psychology, said: “People buy Fukushima cherries in the metropolitan areas because they think the products, which have met the safety standards, are safe to eat. People also want to support [people in] devastated areas [by purchasing products from those areas].
“On the other hand, people don’t visit pick-your-own farms as they are fearful of radiation. Consumers apparently are trying to protect themselves from the risk of radiation exposure as much as possible.”