Agri-Olive Shodoshima Blazes Trail with NYIOOC Win

The company’s environmentally friendly approach and attention to detail are helping create a culture of olive oil production and consumption on one Japanese island.
Agri-Olive Shodoshima
May. 10, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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Visitors approach Shodoshima Island by boat and mar­vel at a moun­tain­ous fer­tile land­scape, which greets them with beau­ti­ful beaches, breath­tak­ing gorges, macaques and unusual veg­e­ta­tion.

However, the olive trees on the Japanese island are the num­ber one tourist attrac­tion and have become so pop­u­lar that a whole park is ded­i­cated to the Shodoshima olives.

With the increase in olive oil con­sump­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of cus­tomers have become aware of the dif­fer­ence between high-qual­ity and low-qual­ity olive oil.- Noboyuki Hiraiwa, founder, Agri-Olive Shodoshima

Oleotourism here means a ded­i­cated museum, a replica of a Greek wind­mill, olive oil tast­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and walks among the first olive trees grown here more than a cen­tury ago.

Shodoshima is home to Japan’s first olive groves. They thrive in an envi­ron­ment sim­i­lar to the Mediterranean’s cli­mate and geog­ra­phy, so much that locals refer to the sea sur­round­ing the island as the Aegean.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Among them is the son of a farmer, Noboyuki Hiraiwa, who founded his olive grow­ing com­pany 15 years ago. In the past few years, he brought locally-pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil to the world stage.

Agri-Olive Shodoshima (AOS) is devel­op­ing a his­tory of suc­cess at the world’s largest and most pres­ti­gious olive oil com­pe­ti­tions. At the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, AOS earned one Gold Award and two Silver Awards.

We are delighted to have received such recog­ni­tion by the pres­ti­gious NYIOOC,” Hiraiwa told Olive Oil Times, adding that these awards did not come by chance. I was immersed in farm­ing since I was a child.”

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Ploughing the olive trees on Shodoshima

My father taught me how to relate to cul­ti­va­tion and devise which meth­ods to deploy,” he added. We also had a neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity of farm­ers who shared their knowl­edge. On top of that, I have stud­ied farm­ing thanks to the Japanese ded­i­cated pub­lic research insti­tutes.”

AOS is a small-scale pro­ducer focused on high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils from the most pop­u­lar olive cul­ti­vars on the island: Mission, Lucca, Manzanillo and Nevadillo Blanco. However, Hiraiwa grows 25 olive vari­eties among his more than 3,000 trees.

He cre­ates a range of prod­ucts from all these olives, includ­ing sev­eral grades of olive oil and other prod­ucts, includ­ing cos­met­ics.

Along with stan­dard Mediterranean vari­eties, AOS also grows the Azapa olive tree, which is widely believed to have orig­i­nated in Chile’s Azapa val­ley, and appears to be closely related to Argentina’s Arauco cul­ti­var.

Azapa is one of the vari­eties AOS deploys to pro­duce its table olives, both green and black.

Research into mate­r­ial design has allowed AOS to approach olive grow­ing with an eye on sus­tain­abil­ity and cir­cu­lar econ­omy.

For exam­ple, the com­pany reuses the olive dru­pes after extract­ing the oil. After olives are pressed, the pits are dried and processed to become live­stock feed, which is then sold to ranch­ers,” Hiraiwa said.

He explained how approx­i­mately 25 per­cent of the olive oil stays in the fruit after the press­ing, mak­ing excel­lent cow food. The result­ing manure becomes com­post, and it is then deployed on farm­land, with spe­cific ben­e­fits for olive grow­ing.

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Fertilizing the olive trees is part of Agri-Olive Shodoshima’s circular economy.

On top of this, the com­pany said the oleic acid con­sumed by the cows also affects beef qual­ity. According to AOS, the Sanuki beef from such cows is highly val­ued for its soft and lean nature and deli­cious fla­vor.

One of the olive trans­for­ma­tion process byprod­ucts, the waste­water, is also com­posted with pruned olive branches and reused to enrich our farm­land,” Hiraiwa said.

Along with many other pro­duc­ers in Japan, Hiraiwa added that labor avail­abil­ity is one of the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing AOS.

Because the island is remote and there is only some flat land, most of the island is under­go­ing a depop­u­lat­ing phe­nom­e­non,” he said. This leads to a pop­u­la­tion aging at an accel­er­ated rate, which means fewer peo­ple are inter­ested in farm­ing work.”

According to Hiraiwa, the work­force scarcity affects the com­pa­ny’s strate­gies, which can not afford a com­pletely organic approach to olive grow­ing because there are not enough work­ers to take care of the trees.

To main­tain the health of the trees, we keep a wide dis­tance between our trees and con­stantly prop­erly prune them to improve ven­ti­la­tion and allow the deploy­ment of coun­ter­mea­sures against dis­ease-caus­ing bac­te­ria,” Hiraiwa said.

Even with these chal­lenges, the out­look for Shodoshima’s extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers seems bright, as Hiraiwa empha­sized how olive oil cul­ture is slowly grow­ing in the coun­try.

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Today, more and more house­holds in Japan use olive oil, and over­all con­sump­tion has been grow­ing in the lat­est years,” he said.

According to International Olive Council data, olive oil con­sump­tion in Japan has grown from 4,000 tons in 1990 to 60,000 tons in the 2021/22 crop year.

In addi­tion, in Shodoshima, which is home of the largest pro­duc­ers of olive oil in Japan, olive oil is on the menu for school lunches and served at day­care cen­ters through junior high schools,” Hiraiwa said.

The Japanese pro­ducer also added that with the increase in olive oil con­sump­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of cus­tomers have become aware of the dif­fer­ence between high-qual­ity and low-qual­ity olive oil.”

AOS main­tains its infra­struc­ture to trans­form the olives in a short time after har­vest and store them away from oxy­gen, light or tem­per­a­ture changes.

These invest­ments have helped Hiraiwa achieve the high­est pos­si­ble results in terms of prod­uct qual­ity. For now, the only new chal­lenges he envi­sions for the sec­tor come from cli­mate change.

We believe that cli­mate change is most likely to affect olives, which grow in a nat­ural envi­ron­ment,” he said. We are con­cerned, as rain­fall pat­terns change dur­ing the rainy sea­son, which is unique to Japan, and tem­per­a­ture and humid­ity dur­ing the har­vest­ing sea­son have both a sig­nif­i­cant impact on olive yields and qual­ity.”

We also pray that peace, the lan­guage of the olive flower, will reach the world and that peace and tran­quil­ity will soon reach the peo­ple of Ukraine,” Hiraiwa con­cluded.


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