TOKYO — Japan does not plan any additional butter imports through next March despite a serious domestic shortage.
Rather, Japan’s four major butter-makers have agreed to boost output by about 33 percent this month at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to meet surging demand for the Christmas season.
The ministry said the shortage is linked to high summer temperatures that reduced milk production.
Dairy farmers are also trimming their herds to cope with Japan’s dwindling population and falling demand as they focus on supplying liquid milk to keep the supermarket shelves stocked.
Butter is popular among home bakers.
Some grocers limit sales to one block per customer as shop shelves are going bare. Stores trumpet the arrival of new supplies with posters in the windows announcing, “We have butter!”
Social media have been abuzz over the shortage, with a Twitter user claiming to be a “butter refugee” after running between shops without success.
In a bid to keep the nation’s kitchens stocked, the government imported 7,000 tons of butter in May and 3,000 tons in September, the first time in years Tokyo has tapped foreign dairy markets.
But the special imports appear insufficient.
“Judging from inventory levels at the end of September, stockpiles are down 30 percent from a year earlier so we’re in a shortage trend,” a MAFF official said.
But not many farmers are willing to increase milk production, the official added.
“They are concerned about where the dairy farming industry will go in the future as they see feed prices soaring,” he said.
A sharply weaker yen has sent the price of imported feed skyward. The U.S. dollar has risen almost 17 percent compared to the yen from a year ago, going from 102 to 119 yen.
Japan’s raw milk production was 7.45 million tons in the year ended in March, down 14 percent from the peak 19 years ago, according to government data.
The ministry plans no more special butter imports through the fiscal year ending March 31.
“We consider the butter import we did in September sufficient for the fiscal year ending in March and currently do not plan any more imports” this fiscal year, MAFF milk and dairy products division deputy director Yasue Fujioka told Capital Press.
Fujioka said a basic tariff of 35 percent applies to butter imports under a MAFF-controlled system. The Agricultural and Livestock Industries Corporation then resells the butter on a tender basis.
Higher tariffs apply if imports come in outside the MAFF-controlled system.