The purpose of this study is to conduct a geographical analysis on the location strategy of “plant factories,” which have shown remarkable growth among “firms’ entering into agriculture” in Japan in recent years. The number of companies entering into agriculture has seen a sharp increase in Japan in the last 10 years after the revision of the Agricultural Land Act in 2009. Especially, the number of firms that build large-scale facilities to produce vegetables has increased drastically. Looking at the distribution of plant factories in Japan, it is evident that many plant factories are located in the regions that agriculture was damaged after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 (Miyagi, Fukushima, etc.), the regions that local governments make efforts to invite agribusiness (Hokkaido, Oita, etc.), and the regions that are not suitable for vegetable production due to weather conditions (prefectures like Niigata and Okinawa). On the whole, it can be said that the location of plant factories in Japan has noticeably shifted toward rural areas in the last 10 years.
Regarding the type of facility, management, and production items of these plant factories, the largest area is occupied by solar plant factories managed by farming corporations, and the highest produced item is tomatoes. In other words, it would be most effective to study the case of a plant factory that uses solar power to produce tomatoes in order to understand the regional effects of plant factories in Japan. Therefore, in this paper, we took up the entry of Kagome Co., Ltd. (hereafter, abbreviated as Kagome) into agriculture as a case study and performed a detailed analysis.
Kagome has been opening plant factories all over the country since the 2000s to produce fresh tomatoes. However, it was found that soliciting the efforts of local governments to resolve the issue of depopulation had influenced Kagome’s location strategy of plant factories. Therefore, Mihara village in Kochi prefecture, being one such area, was chosen for conducting a case study. The results of the study indicated the regional impact of Kagome’s entry into Mihara village to be as follows: (1) an increase in agricultural output, (2) the creation of local employment, and (3) the transformation of the rural landscape. On the other hand, the results also indicated that Kagome acts independent of the local JA and farmers, which is a deviation from the framework of local agriculture. Moreover, Kagome uses unskilled or manualized techniques for the harvesting operations in these plant factories, which makes it difficult for its employees to acquire sufficient farming skills.
This indicates that while the location of plant factories brings considerable economic benefits to regions, they also face structural problems like difficulty in expanding agribusiness and farming techniques locally.