According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), a total of 97,814 hectares of farmland was sitting idle and unused across Japan in 2018, down 700 hectares from 2017 but the third year in a row to be around the 100,000 hectare range. 

This trend is expected to continue as the population involved in agriculture ages and labor shortages continue. Approximately 94% of the idle farmland is not currently cultivated and not likely to be in the future. The remaining 6,290 hectares are considered to be unusable due to the local conditions of the property.

Fukushima Prefecture has the highest amount of idle farmland with 7,397 hectares. Chiba Prefecture is in third place with 6,313 hectares. The Tokyo Metropolitan Area has 340 hectares of unused farmland.

Japan’s Agricultural Land Act has measures to discourage the abandonment of farmland. Local agricultural committees will investigate whether the property owner has any inclination to farm the land or lease it out to a farmer. If not, the committee will, with the cooperation of the Agricultural Land Management Organization, issue advice to the owner. If that fails, the prefectural governor can issue a ruling that assigns management rights to the land management organization. Farmland that has been issued advice is also subject to higher annual property taxes, resulting in a tax bill that is 1.8 times the normal rate. 

According to the MAFF, there were 481 advice orders issued as of January 2019, covering 93 hectares. This is an increase of 102 orders from 2018. So far, none of the cases have proceeded to the prefectural governor stage.

In 2019, the average price of a rice field across the country dropped by 1.4% from last year, while the average price of other cultivated land dropped by 1.0%. Agricultural land prices have been in continual decline since 1992. The two main reasons for the dropping values are a shrinking number of farmers to continue to carry on operations, along with little-to-no buyers. 

Selling or leasing farmland is not a straightforward process. It requires the permission of the local agricultural committee. The person acquiring the farmland must also pass the committee’s requirements. Selling farmland that will be used for non-agricultural purposes requires the prefectural governor’s permission.

Source: The Japan Agricultural News, November 3, 2019.