The internationally well-known beef brand “Kobe Beef”
We interviewed Mr. M. Ikeda from the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (General Manager, Animal Farming Division, JA Zen-Noh (National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations) Hyogo), and asked about production and distribution of Kobe Beef. The overview of the interview is as follows:
1. Trends of Kobe Beef production
The overall production volume has remained the same. There has not been a dramatic increase in the number of cows because the number of breeding cows (number of breeding Tajima-gyu cows: 15,000) has remained the same and also the producer (farmer) population has been aging (although there are some new young producers).
- Number of households raising cows and production volume:
Number of breeding farmers of calve of Tajima-gyu cows (designated producer): Approximately 2,000 households
(number of breeding Tajima-gyu cows: 15,000)
Number of feeding farmers of Tajima-gyu cows (designated producer):
Approximately 300 households
Annual carcass production (Kobe Beef):
Approximately 1,320 tons from 5,500 cows
- Tajima-gyu cows as breeding cows for Kobe Beef
The pedigree of Tajima-gyu cows is strictly managed. They are weak cows born from inbreeding; therefore, they must be carefully raised. They are light and yield a small amount of meat. The meat however is high quality and high class meat.
2. Production and distribution of Kobe Beef
- Kobe Beef production plays an important role in recycling-oriented agricultural production
Farmers that raise cows often produce vegetables crops. They use cow manure in their vegetable field. (Use of organic fertilizers leads to the reliability and safety of vegetables.)
Manures are provided for rice as well as upland crop cultivation. (In many cases, manures are provided to Zen-Noh by livestock farmers, and then they are provided to rice and vegetable farmers.
They are however sometimes directly provided to the rice and vegetable farmers.)
(This follows the nature cycle and contributes to recycling-based agriculture and continuation of traditional agriculture.)
Production of Kobe Beef (feeding of Tajima-gyu cows) requires high quality straw (coexistence for rice cropping).
- Production areas
Awaji area: vegetable and cow breeding farmers
Tamba (Sasayama), Kakogawa, Kobe areas: mostly cow feeding farmers (average number of cows that are raised: 200 to 300, but some raise as many as 500 cows).
- Development of successors
Training is provided in Zen-noh’s test ranches.
Some fattening farmers accept trainees.
- Cost of production
A breeding cow is expensive (450,000-550,000 yen per cow).
Dramatic rise of the feed grains (corn etc.) price has caused an increase of production costs.
The price of feed grains continues to remain high and prospects are clouded. (Is this price trend different from the past? There is no indication of the price declining in the future.) These are leading to concerns for the farmers.
3. International expansion of sales channels
- Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association open the door of its certified exporter and distributers of Kobe Beef to any entities (there is a procedure to certify reliable individuals to maintain brand credibility, and this is the same procedure as the one used in Japan (shop designation and issuance of certifications)).
- The trademark registration has been completed in Korea and Taiwan. It has been applied for in China and Hong Kong (it takes 3 years).
4. Quality control
- Maintenance of the technical level
Instruction manuals are published (and made available to the public).
- There are designated producers (for breeding and feeding)
For an individual to become a designated producer, first the local JA checks if he/she raises Tajima-gyu cows and then recommends him/her as a candidate before the committee.
- Certificated shops (wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants)
Any entity can be registered as long as the standard established by the committee (the right way of selling) can be met. Note, however, in order to guarantee implementation of the right way of selling, entities that are recommended by current certificated shop of the Association are accepted as a new certificated shops (so that current certificated shops are responsible for the new shops that they recommend).
- Meat centers and carcass markets
Six meet markets in the prefecture are designated and commissioned to inspect and put seals on meat and issue certifications.
Other markets can apply to become designated markets but the committee members must carry out on-site inspections. There have not been any applications to date.
5. Actions taken to maintain the brand
- The production and sales registration system is maintained.
- Objections are raised whenever incorrect information is released (i.e. media report).
- Tajima Beef Certification System, a ubiquitous network was developed. The System consists of information on blooding line, birth and breeding etc. of each Tajima-gyu, breeding cows of Kobe-gyu. Consumers can access the system through the Internet and by cell phone.