Tea plantes at a normal farm are just over 10 years old,but the plants at FUJISAKO TEA ESTATE have been around for over 60 years old.
Tea plants at a normal plantation only thrive for a dozen years or so. If the tea plant itself has the ability to live for several hundred years, then why can they only produce for just over ten?
1. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers
The use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers causes the tea plant’s natural immunity to drop, inhibiting natural resistance to disease and pests. It’s said that the potency of the antioxidants and the immunity levels of the tea plant are so high insects aren’t attracted and don’t eat it. It’s though that excessive absorption of pesticides and chemical fertilizers quickly causes the plant’s natural immunity and antioxidant levels to deteriorate.
The 1985 Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Prize-winning plantation.
Pictured: Yabukita tea plants.
Teas including Yabukita, selectively bred from species indigenous to Japan, and the indigenous Yamacha still thrive after many years of repeated natural crossbreeding. They are produced in the village of Sagara, Youra ward.
An obsession with selective breeding has been caused by the huge importance placed on taste and color. Breeds that are produced naturally hold within them Nature’s living force. Yabukita is originally a selectively bred tea that makes up over 90% of the tea grown in Japan today. Indigenous varieties (tea plants that have passed on their seeds over the course of many years of natural crossbreeding and are unique to Japan) were selected and crossed for their color and flavor as well as high resistance to cold and disease. Yabukita is now an established tea, along with other cultivars such as Tamamidori.
Without agricultural chemicals or chemical fertilizers it is difficult to produce superior quality teas, even Yabukita. In contrast to the indigenous Yamacha, present in Japan since long ago and still grown today, Benifuuki is an artificially bred variety that is established today as a high quality tea.
Benifuuki’s ancestor, Benihomare, was originally brought into Japan in the latter 1880′s from the Assam region of India, famous for its black tea. From the Indian black teas, those best suited to Japan’s environment were chosen and became popular throughout the country, coming to be known as “Indocha”, literally “India Tea”.
Despite Benihomare being selectively bred to popularize Japanese black tea all over the world, it is known today as a “phantom” black tea. Benihomare was artificially cross-pollinated with MakuraCd86, a selectively bred relative of Darjeeling, to create the high-profile Benifuuki we know today. Along with Benifuuki and Benihomare, Benjifuji is another imported variety. At Fujisako Tea Estate we mainly grow the indigenous Yamacha and its selectively bred varieties Yabukita and Tamamidori.
Benifuuki, which is well suited for black and semi-oxidized teas and has its origins in India, certainly has value, but at Fujisako Tea Estate we are insistent on producing purely Japanese products. We believe in the importance of preserving not only the fragrances, flavors and colors of Japan’s traditional indigenous varieties, but also the “living force” that resides within Japanese Tea.
Excessive focus on improving efficiency has led to the introduction of heavy machinery into tea cultivation. These heavy machines, with their enormous caterpillar tracks, are driven through the tea fields. The soil, which must be fertile to make tea, is firmly trodden down. The roots of the tea plants don’t grow sufficiently large and cannot extend deep into the earth. This means nutrients cannot be absorbed, resulting in short-lived tea plants.
A shortened lifespan is attributed to the loss of the tea plant’s vitality. When it comes to selling the tea, the general belief is that after around fifteen years quality begins to deteriorate. Without disputing whether this is true or not, the tea plants are eventually uprooted and replaced. The truth is that by refraining from the use of heavy machinery, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the tea plants can live well beyond this age.
It’s commonly believed that the introduction of heavy machinery for mass production corresponds to reduced numbers of agricultural workers, leading to lower labor costs and increased profits. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The price for one of these machines ranges on average from 5 to 10 million yen. One tea farmer usually owns two or three large farming machines. At the very least every farmer has debts of 10 million yen. The heavy machinery was introduced to facilitate mass production and boost profits, but the farmers are causing their own downfall with the very mass production methods they are using.
Production in large quantities lowers the unit value per kilogram of tea. In 2014, at the tea farms that use heavy machinery, pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the area around Fujisako Tea Estate, the new tea from the most valuable “first flush” sold at a high of \4,000 per kilo. The average price was around \2,000, falling to \1,500 the next day. Within the space of a week the average price had dropped to just \500 per kilo. This is simple market principles in action.
The more heavy machinery is used to expand mass production, the more pronounced the fall in the tea’s market value becomes. It is a simple prediction to make that cheap foreign imports of a
similar quality will enter the Japanese market.
If that happens, Japanese tea farmers who cultivate using ordinary methods will be unable to compete. If they can somehow hold their own, it will be through methods that continue to lower prices for the sake of increased efficiency and mass production.
Of course, at Fujisako Tea Estate we do not use heavy machinery. We use a hand-held tea plucker, a small machine that only weighs around 10kg. When walking around Fujisako Tea Estate we take the utmost care not to trample the soil. The soil is so light and soft that visitors say it is like walking on a carpet.
We only lend a little helping hand and trust the rest to nature.
Soil pH levels
Acidic soil of pH 4 – 5 is said to be the the most suitable for growing tea, but at Fujisako Tea Estate our soil is almost neutral, at pH 6.7. Pictured: an analog soil meter in May 2014.
Soil moisture content
The soil moisture ratio is just under 40%. The measurement was taken on a clear day at a depth of around 5cm. If the same measurement was taken at a tea farm that used heavy machinery or chemical fertilizers and pesticides the meter would read “DRY”. Preserving the soil’s water content is paramount to maintaining a healthy farm.
Pure bred domestic species cultivate from the seed
Tea leaves are usually grown from seedlings, but at Fujisako Tea Estate, we cultivate our teas from the seed itself. Our seeds are not “F1 hybrids” but pure bred domestic varieties or those that have been selectively bred from domestic varieties.
It takes approximately fifteen years before tea plants cultivated from seeds can first be harvested. For plants grown from seedlings, harvesting is usually possible after about three years.
It was either three years or fifteen. Considering the obvious differences in the time and effort required, the decision was by no means an easy one to make.
Dr. Joerg Schweikart from www.gruenertee.de
Many business people visiting us from abroad come searching of "real Japanese food". Pictured: Mr. Schweikart from " gruenertee.de”, Germany.
Cultivation completely free of chemical fertilizers and agricultural chemicals
Domestic varieties were planted here 64 years ago and, as of 2014, 37 years have passed since we began completely chemical fertilizer and pesticide-free cultivation. During that time we have not used chemical fertilizers, agricultural herbicides or insecticides. This kind of cultivation management takes considerable effort. We are often asked if we really run a tea estate because of the sheer number of weeds growing here!
These days, many tea farms prune their tea plants in a shape we call “square-cut”. This give the tea plants their distinctive sharp, well-defined shape. The correct way to describe our tea plants is “round”. This is the old-style traditional shape that we preserve to this day at Fujisako Tea Estate.
These days, business with foreign companies exceeds that within Japan. We are highly regarded overseas for employing truly non-chemical fertilizer, non-pesticide production methods, and for our natural approach to tea cultivation. In 2005 we acquired the Organic Japanese Agricultural Standard, but due to the high renewal costs, a lack of widespread knowledge nationally and no great cost benefits, we annulled our certification in 2013.
The real reason for the cancellation of the Japanese Organic Agricultural Standard was non-renewal – the cost really is much higher than people think. Foreign companies speculated that acquisition and renewal fees for organic certification in Japan are so high because of a lack of expansion of the market share of organic produce and products. To give Germany as an example, organic produce makes up around 12% of national agricultural output, compared to 0.2% in Japan.
With increasing transactions with foreign businesses, especially in Europe and countries with developed markets for organic products, we couldn’t gain recognition as an organic producer without proper certification. This is why we acquired the Organic Japanese Agricultural Standard for a second time in 2014 (certification number: SEZ-26030551).
Home-made organic fertilizer,free from animal waste products
The raw materials for the organic fertilizer we use at Fujisako Tea Estate don’t contain chemicals or material from livestock sources, such as cow, pig or chicken dung. The main reason for this is that animal by-products contain invisible carryover – residues from inorganic animal feed.
All our raw materials are produced in Kumamoto Prefecture, on Kyushu, a large island in southern Japan. We’re very particular about where we source our raw materials, particularly after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 2011 and the radioactive contamination that followed. We perform rigorous traceability checks to ensure the raw materials we use aren’t contaminated.
We use brown sugar or the husks of non-genetically modified soy beans, blended with dried sardines or seaweed as the main raw materials for our fertilizer. This is then broken down by several kinds of helpful bacteria that exist symbiotically in a give-and-take relationship – if one kind of bacteria is not working, the others will perish and the fertilizer will rot and become useless. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we pay the utmost attention to the maintenance and management of our fertilizer.
Fertilizer takes about half a year to make. During decomposition the activity of the bacteria raises the temperature inside the mulch to around 70º Celsius. This fertilizer is the little “helping hand” we give to the tea.
The bacteria are multiplying in the soil on the estate right this minute. We almost never have to apply additional fertilizer – the earth itself is alive. This is nature’s way.
Due to concerns about chemical carryover, all our fertilizer is organic, made from raw materials containing no waste products from cows, pigs or chickens
At Fujisako Tea Estate we only use raw materials that come from Kumamoto Prefecture in our original organic fertilizer. To eliminate carryover from pesticides, chemical fertilizers and radioactive material, absolute care must be taken with regard to the substances we use.
Tackling airborne pesticides
Fujisako Tea Estate is surrounded by mountains over 700 meters. A windbreak forest protects the estate from airborne pesticides that are carried in on northwesterly winds.
The tea farms in the surrounding area do use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We sacrificed a portion of our estate to plant a windbreak forest. The trees over three meters tall and grow naturally, protecting the tea plants. This maximizes our defenses against the airborne chemicals from the northwest.
The windbreak forest has been growing for over 30 years. The combination of this and other protective measures has eliminated residual pesticides from the estate. Agricultural chemicals have not been detected at Fujisako Tea Estate (certification held).
A spider among dayflowers that grow on the estate
The tea estate is inhabited by spiders, beetles and mantises and we remove weeds by hand only during the tea picking season. We aim to maintain and environment that is as close as possible to nature, but weeding really is hard work.
A tea estate without heavy machinery.
It takes considerable time and effort to grow tea and, from the point of view of labor, large machinery is extremely useful. The use of heavy equipment offsets the workload, but we don’t use any at Fujisako Tea Estate because of the excessive weight.
The caterpillar tracks of heavy machinery compact the soil impeding the tea’s growth. The roots of the tea plant cannot grow large nor can they extend deep into the soil. This means the tea cannot properly absorb nutrients and each plant’s lifespan is shortened.
When presented with the choice between the life of the tea or reduced labor, we chose the tea.
A walkway between rows of tea trees
We employ techniques that do not place a burden on the soil. We use hand-held equipment instead of vehicles equipped with caterpillar tracks. By not using herbicides or insecticides plants can grow in the earth, just like in the photograph.
JAPAN AGRIFUTURE MANAGEMENT CO.,LTD
[Manufacturing & Organic estate Company]
TEL:+8192-980-5942 / FAX:+8192-954-3638