KASHIWAZAKI, NIIGATA >> A materials manufacturer and retailer in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, has begun growing bananas using exhaust heat from its waste incineration facility.
Shimoda Industry Co., which can produce the fruit year-round by maintaining temperature levels inside its greenhouses, aims to make its first shipment of bananas in 2020.
The city government has teamed with a local financial institution and other entities to create a new brand centered on the tropical fruit, grown in the snowy region at Shimoda Farm, an orchard built at the company’s industrial waste processing facility.
The firm built two greenhouses, each 1,200 square yards in size, for about 100 million yen (about $926,000). They house about 200 seedlings. Heat generated by the adjacent incineration facility raises the temperature of water circulating inside the greenhouses to keep temperatures at about 75 degrees, just right for growing bananas.
Company president Akira Shimoda thought of the idea when he heard a woman from the Philippines saying the bananas she ate in Japan tasted terrible.
Almost all bananas sold in Japan are imported after being harvested green. They ripen during shipment, which causes their flavor to deteriorate. Believing there is demand for domestically grown bananas, Shimoda decided to try growing the fruit in greenhouses using exhaust heat.
Cultivation started in August using Gros Michel seedlings from an agricultural corporation in Okayama that grows Okayama Mongee Bananas, a popular premium variety. Sweet and fragrant, it can be eaten in its entirety — peel and all. The variety has been bred to make it resistant to the cold.
Shimoda Industry employees spent three months on-site learning cultivation techniques and to monitor ventilation and temperature inside the greenhouses.
The first shipment is scheduled for June. If production goes as scheduled, the company expects to harvest 1,000 bananas a week. They plan to sell them for 700 yen (about $6.50) apiece.
The banana project is part of a public-private initiative to help establish local brands. The effort involves the municipal government, Kashiwazaki Shinkin Bank and Mitsukoshi department store’s Niigata branch. The partners will provide assistance in coming up with a product name and packaging design, as well as developing sales channels.
“Ripe bananas are nutritious and healthy,” Shimoda said. “I hope people will appreciate the flavor of freshly harvested ones.”