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The Doctor of Crops: Plant Clinic Center Aims Toward Circulative Agriculture -- Editorial Staff

The Doctor of Crops

Plant Clinic Center Aims Toward Circulative Agriculture

The Plant Clinic Center is in the town of Wakuya, Miyagi Prefecture, where you will find the beautiful landscape of Mt. Nonodake, the Eaigawa River flowing, and rice fields spreading far. Some 1250 years ago, the first gold mine was found in this town. Nature Interface interviewed Mr. Seigo Abe, the president of the PC Center, who talked about the work of the center and the future of Japanese agriculture.

Mr. Abe started his talk by saying: Agriculture had been the center of society since ancient times. There had been good and close relationships among production, distribution and consumption, and rural communities fulfilled their own needs. But now, there are few relationships between the producer and the consumer; they are only economically related. I think this results in the current problems in agriculture, communities and food safety. If there is much communication, the producer and consumer can build a better relationship and will find better ways to solve problems. Japanese agriculture faces many difficult problems, but agriculture always has been the basis of society, and this role remains for it even now. Our aim is to forge better relationships between "rural communities and urban cities" and "producers and consumers".

In 1992, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries enacted a set of guidelines for organic crops. However, there is a deep gap between the guidelines and the producers: Their ways of thinking about organic farming are completely different from what the guidelines try to establish. Many of the producers are under the mistaken impression that they can produce organic crops if only they fertilize the land with compost.

So, what is "organic farming"? It is commonly defined as an agricultural way to use organic rather than chemical fertilizers and to maximize the natural power of the land. Since agriculture is done in various places, it is natural that the way of farming is different in each region. The guidelines by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries may homogenize the diverse Japanese agriculture. Here is the root of the PC Center's activity.

In 1977, Mr. Abe started to measure the sugar content of vegetables using a sugar content meter and to research the nitrate concentration in vegetables, since the nitrate would change to nitrosamine, a carcinogen. He also established, and has spread the farming technology to cultivate, delicious and safe vegetables.

The PC Center started its activity in 1981 and was incorporated in 1990. Mr. Abe proposes a "scientific agriculture", but it is a science of connecting people, not eliminating them. This is PC Agriculture. Says Mr. Abe:

I think agriculture should be done scientifically. But the technologies for cultivating crops are not material; rather they are people's knowledge and work. So, it is meaningless to follow the scientists and technicians. Even though the control systems of cultivation or the environmental control systems are excellent, the cultivation would never be successful without the knowledge and work of people. In PC Agriculture, we have numerically expressed what farmers have understood through their long experiences, so that it becomes much easier to educate and train the next generation of farmers. Regular analysis of the crops is also an important part of PC Agriculture, and it makes it easier to set a standard for crop quality and to maintain a balance between income and expenditures.

The PC Center has established a safety standard for composts and products. Cultivation guidance follows the steps shown in Fig. 1. The PC Center also tries to prepare composts that are the least harmful to the environment through its originally designed checkup of the soil (Fig. 2). And product nutrition is analyzed using the five standards of safety, health and taste: sugar contents, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and nitrate nitrogen.

The PC Center conducts research projects in the following areas: 1. Farming methods, composts, soils and crops used for the cultivation examinations. 2. Analyses of plants. 3. Diagnoses of soil and water. 4. Environmental care such as greening technology or sewage and waste treatment. 5. Consultations for cultivation, composting, soil improvement, etc. There are a great many requests for checkups from all parts of Japan, and Mr. Abe travels as a doctor of crops throughout all of Japan. He has even established bases abroad, such as in Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, and has diagnosed the crops.

We would like to introduce to you the activities of the PC Center more concretely in the next issue.

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