Suzuki-san - a leading dairy farmer in Shihoro Town

Suzuki-san grows dent corn neccesary for his cows.
Suzuki-san and his beloved wife in front of his Japanese garden.
When young Suzuki-san, an employee of the Tokyo office of Yotsuba Milk Products Co., told me that he wanted to bring me to his father's dairy farm, I did not expect that his father Mr. Yoichi Suzuki is a leading dairy farmer in Shihoro Town, the representative municipality for livestock industry in the Tokachi plains, Hokkaido.

Suzuki-san (Suzuki senior) would not get angry, even though I call his life a success story. I was fascinated by his untiring efforts, endurance, foresight and dedication to the public cause. The father of Suzuki senior came from a nearby town and settled in Shihoro in 1936, because he was not the first son and had to make his living away from his parents' house.

Hokkaido was a Japanese frontier in the process of its modernization after the Meiji restoration in 1867. Many people were officially sent to Hokkaido to develop the land and other people - in particular, younger sons of a family - wanted to try their fortune in a new world. Of course, most of them engaged in agriculture, at least at the beginning. However, the climate of Hokkaido is extremely severe. Though its latitude is about that of South France or New York, the annual lowest temperature is even now still lower then minus 30 degree Celsius, even though the global warming has advanced. Unfortunately, cereal and vegetable farming was often damaged by cold weather and could not be a stable basis for farmers’ life. Therefore, the government started to promote dairy farming in Hokkaido around 1910, after an extremely severe crop failure.

However, when Suzuki-san took over his father's farm in 1963, this policy has not born much fruit yet. Suzuki-san had only 5 cows, which he milked by hand, and 5 heifers. His herd was so small that he also worked at the same time on crop farming and thus could barely sustain the family. However, Suzuki-san was not satisfied with the situation, because he had by then already experienced two years’ training, between 1963 and 1965, at a dairy farm in Illinois, the US, and knew the modern management of large dairy farms and the rich life style of the American farmers. So, he clearly envisaged an objective.
Cows in the free stall.
I found a calf of the first filial generation (F1).

In the mid 1960s it was a rare case that a son of a poor farmer could study abroad. But, Suzuki-san had guts. He had chosen on his own initiative to study at Rakuno-Gakuen(*), a special school for young would-be dairy farmers. Therefore, it was not strange that the then president of the farmers' association in Shihoro strongly recommended Suzuki-san, after graduation from from Rakuno-Gakuen, to study in the US and gathered donation from among their neighbor farmers. This anecdote impressed me a lot, because I could vividly feel the spirit of self- and mutual- help which exited among the pioneers in Hokkaido. I felt the same kind of dedication to the local community or fellow farmers throughout the public and business activities of Suzuki-san.
Rakuno-Gakuen was established in 1933 following the model of Danish Folkehojskole initiated by Bishop Grundtvig.
Anyhow, using knowledge and skill he obtained during his stay in the US, Suzuki-san worked hard and used every chance to improve his farm. By 1970 he became a full-time dairy farmer, introduced as first Japanese dairy farmer advanced technology and production method including free stall, milking parlor and computer controlled feeding. He imported high-performance cows from the US and pursued to expand the size of his farm land. Around 1975 he came so far that he could start with improving the living environment of his farm so that he could also enjoy his life.

Suzuki-san received trainees from Korea for more than 10 years and was presented a letter of appreciation by a Korean college for agriculture. He also worked together with the municipality in the on-site testing of bio-gas power plant, which now produces electricity by methane gas extracted from manure about double as much as is used within the farm.

Three years ago he transferred the management to his first son - the one working at Yotsuba is the second son - and wanted to enjoy his life together with his beloved wife, because they had worked so hard and wanted to have a relaxed time. He plans a tour in next autumn to visit France, Germany and Switzerland together with his wife. But, it seems to me that his real intention is to study more about dairy farming in those countries. He is still very much energetic in every front and eager to gather information, expand human network and work for the local community.

Methane gas fermentst yet.

Suzuki Farm in summer 2009. Two tower silos exist there only as symbols of a dairy farm. The second building from left is his new house with an observation room.

Bird's-eye photo of Suzuki Farm a few years ago. The new house did not exist yet.

Still now, Suzuki farm is a pure family business. It consists of seven persons: Suzuki-san and his wife, their first son and his wife and their three young children. The farm has 200 cows (20 among them are dried off) and 150 heifers. The annual production of milk was 1,670 t in FY 2008 (**) and this amounted to be 8,910 kg per cow. The farm uses in total 65 ha, of which 35.5 ha belong to it, for making feed: 34 ha for dent corn and 31 ha for timothy. In addition it has a land of 3.5 ha for farm facilities including barns, methane-gas plant, silage and also house and garden.
There was a production adjustment in 2008 and the Suzuki farm delivered less milk than the previous years.
As Suzuki-san is a model farmer in the area, he has to receive many business missions. For them he built an extra observation room on the third floor of his newly finished house. He complained that many guests told him that dairy farming must be an easily profitable job, as he could build such an impressive house with an observation room. Suzuki-san said, he built the house only last year after he had worked hard for many decades. He could enjoy a small success, because he worked much harder, gathered much more information and made much better business decisions than most other farmers. I agree with him.