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Asia

Japanese milk farmer fears he might go bankrupt

Tokyo has banned the sale of dairy products from Ibaraki prefecture because of high radiation levels. But Minoru Nomura, a milk farmer in the small town of Omitama, says he will go bankrupt if he can't sell his produce.

Mr Nomura owns 1,200 cows and can milk 430 a day

Minoru Nomura owns 1,200 cows and can milk 430 a day

Minoru Nomura has 1,200 cows in his shed. They are typical cows with black and white spots and every so often they stick their heads through the metal bars to reach the fodder on the other side.

The farm is about one-and-a-half hour’s drive northwest of Tokyo and about 45 kilometers away from the coast, in an agricultural region where melons, vegetables, pork and milk are produced.

Every day, 12,000 liters of milk are poured out onto an unused field

Every day, 12,000 liters of milk are poured out onto an unused field

Twice a day, Minoru Nomura milks 430 dairy cows. His state-of-the-art milking machine can milk 24 cows at a time and calculates exactly how much milk should be pumped from each cow every day. In total, the milking process takes about two and a half hours and yields some 12,000 liters.

However, at the moment these 12,000 liters are going to waste as he is no longer allowed to sell his milk. He only felt last month's earthquake marginally - just a few tiles fell from the roof of his house. But now his business is on very shaky ground and he is scared he could go bankrupt within months.

"We have to throw the milk away because the government has decided that no more dairy products from Ibaraki prefecture should be consumed," he explains. "They tested the milk shortly after the disaster at the nuclear power plant and detected radiation."

Difficult to go against government

The 67-year-old in blue overalls, who has a white cloth tied into his hair to absorb the sweat, says the directive should not be so general. He insists there is a difference depending on whether cows graze in the fields or are kept inside and are thus sheltered from rain.

"When they measured the radiation levels three weeks ago, it had rained the day before," he recalls. "The levels were high among cows that grazed outside - over 600. But my cows were inside and the levels had not gone up - it was about 15. There is no problem with my milk but still I have to get rid of it."

He adds that the government has made the decision and he cannot do much against it.

Watering the fields with milk

Usually a dairy comes to pick up Mr. Nomura's milk twice a day. Now, his son Eiichi is helping him get rid of it. First of all, Eiichi attaches a hose to the cooling tank to which the cow's milk automatically goes. He then pumps it into another tank attached to a tractor.

He makes sure he puts aside a few liters for the family’s own consumption. He gives me a porcelain cup and after a moment of hesitation because after all it could be dangerous I take it and drink it up. The milk is cool and fresh.

Minoru Nomura insists his milk is not contaminated

Minoru Nomura insists his milk is not contaminated

After the milk has been transferred from one tank to the other, he climbs onto the tractor and motions for me to sit next to him.

We move away from the yard slowly and drive towards a field that is usually used by the Nomuras for corn. Eiichi lifts a lever and 6,000 liters of milk spurt out onto the field. The milk that I just tasted is now completely wasted.

Author: Silke Ballweg/act
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein

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