What's The "True" Taste of Peaches?

How an innovative grower is using data and a lot of love to bring consumers

Peaches (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Ripe peaches all season long

With an enchanting sweet aroma and juicy flesh, the peach is a fruit that is eminently captivating. Yamanashi Prefecture is Japan’s number one producer of peaches and home to Peach Senka Yamashita, a fruit farm that specializes in peach-growing and one that has cultivated a unique business model. Ikko Yamashita is the second-generation manager of the farm that began in 1965. Unlike many farmers who work under a sole proprietorship business model, Yamashita has established his farm as an agricultural production corporation. At the same time as enhancing peach cultivation methods, the company is exploring the potential of peaches, such as giving customers the chance to enjoy them freshly picked at the farm’s café and developing products such as gelato and fruit beer in collaboration with partner companies.

"Peach Haze" (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Peach Specialty Yamashita's representative, Mr. Ikko Yamashita (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Yamashita’s farm currently cultivates an impressive 49 different varieties of peach. Some may be surprised that many varieties exist and wonder why Yamashita grows so many. The reason is that by cultivating many different peaches, the ripening stage for each shifts slightly through growing season, making it possible to harvest peaches without interruption for around three months between late June and mid-September.

Peaches before changing color (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“Each peach variety ripens on the tree over the course of just one week. We run a café here, so to ensure that visitors will always have the chance to enjoy delicious fresh peach, we have all these different varieties growing, their various harvest times allowing for a constant supply of fresh fruit. The way of growing individual varieties differs and they all have their idiosyncrasies; to be honest, the more varieties you grow, the bigger pain in the neck it is!” Yamashita laughs. “I just really want people who buy the fruit or come here to taste it at the café to enjoy themselves. For example, for people who have ordered online for home delivery, we carefully select the type of peach that is in season at that very time to ensure they get the most delicious fruit possible.”

Peach farms (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A cultivation method that brings out the best in the trees

Visiting the farm during peach season, you are presented with the vivid contrast between the pink of the fruit and the rich green of the trees they grow upon. A particularly laborious part of the cultivation process is what comes prior to the bagging of each ripening peach on the tree: disbudding, flower thinning, and fruit thinning. Each of these tasks is repeated three times.

Peach tree sprout (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“The thinning process is like an audition for the growing of tasty fruit. It’s strange, but it’s almost like they are in a competition to see which can be the most delicious! The fruit that has made it through the fruit thinning stage are covered with bags for about two weeks prior to harvesting — at this stage they are not colored. It’s when you remove the bag that they gradually gain their color and their sugar content slowly rises. Because I am looking at the trees every day, I know exactly which tree in which grove on a given day will be bearing the best fruit that’s ready for harvest. There’s a part of me that thinks, ‘I don’t want to sell these off! Whoever buys these peaches today sure is lucky!’” Yamashita grins.

Peach trees (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Yamashita is particular about farming methods that utilize the power of nature. In order to have the trees maximize their full growing potential, he avoids the use of chemical fertilizers, instead using bokashi fertilizer, fermented organic matter that contains a large number of microorganisms.

“Soil is a vital component in the growing of peaches. But, as to what kind of soil is good: that is up to the trees and the microorganisms as they ‘know’ best! What I like to focus on is ensuring the trees build up a good root system so they can pull up the nutrients they need. The nutrients broken down by the microorganisms are absorbed in different amounts depending on what the tree requires. Chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, are absorbed by the trees regardless of whether they require the nutrients contained in the fertilizer or not. You can’t grow good peaches if they are overnourished. There is a lot about agriculture that seems to go against logic, but being knowledgeable about these things brings you closer to making good fruit. “

Peach trees (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Computerized data and imagination indispensable

Peach Senka Yamashita has around 1,000 peach trees. Compared to other peach farms, it grows a great number of varieties. Yet, even within the same variety, individual characteristics can emerge. Yamashita aggregates data to manage cultivation and ensure he gets each individual tree producing the best fruit. Each tree gets its own file containing information on the year it was planted, when it was pruned and who pruned it, the fruit output for the previous year, and other such details. In addition, schedules are set according to this data, such as how many days after the flowers have fully bloomed for a particular variety that harvesting may commence. Yamashita says that this data-based approach allows him to share the same information among all staff and makes it easier for him to consider approaches for the upcoming year.

Peach fruit (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“We grow so many different peaches here; we won’t turn out good fruit if I am the only one involved in looking after them all. It is important that I have everyone understand what is going on. Speaking of people, because each of the trees has its own characteristics and ‘personality’, I actually think of them like I do other humans! You know: this one looks hungry, this one is a handful and not very good on the eye, like that! But, I think peaches are more honest and easier to understand than people. When you do something for them and care for them, they respond accordingly — they don’t lie!” Yamashita explains.

Peach Specialty Yamashita's representative, Mr. Ikko Yamashita (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Yamashita says that while managing data on each tree’s characteristics and growth is important, some imagination on the part of the grower is essential.
“Peaches taste better when they have been amply exposed to the sun. Once harvesting is done, we prune back the branches to prepare for the following year. Employees are taught that they need to have a future picture in mind before they start pruning. Like thinking, ‘How far do I want this particular branch to grow over the next three years? How do I want the branch to grow?’ and then making your cut. It may be difficult to imagine, but the point is to form a ‘good looking’ tree. Knowing how to create a good looking, well-balanced tree requires expanding the imagination and preparing accordingly in your approach.”

Half-split peach compote and 2 types of gelato, "Peach Melva" (left) and peach parfait "Peach Jewel" (right) (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A willingness to embrace change to deliver the ultimate taste experience

The La Casa Della Pesca, the café Yamashita opened on his farm in 2008, offers a menu that features the peaches in season at any given time. Visitors can compare the delicious flavors of many kinds of peaches in the form of gelato, an experience that can only be enjoyed at a peach farm.

Terrace seats of peach farm cafe LA PESCA (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Outside peach farm cafe LA PESCA (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Many types of peach gelato (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“For the approximately 40 years prior to creating the café, we were only doing home deliveries via courier. I was always a little disappointed that we couldn’t have our peaches arriving at people’s doors in their most delicious state. If you ship peaches after they are fully ripe, the risk of damage during transit increases so we therefore have to send them while they are still a little firm. The peaches will become softer with time, but they don’t actually ripen, meaning that their sugar content doesn’t increase. That’s why I thought that the best way for people to experience truly delicious, freshly picked peaches was to have them taste the peaches right here,” Yamashita says.

Despite the menu largely remaining the same, the type of peach used often changes; Yamashita notes that some customers will visit the café several times during the season to experience the taste of many kinds of peaches.

Peaches (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Climate change is having an effect on all parts of Japan, bringing with it extended rainy seasons and rising temperatures in summer. Yamashita’s farm has been directly impacted by these changes over the past few years, seeing harvest time getting earlier and fruit dropping off the trees before they are due for picking due to increased precipitation.

“It’s being called ‘extreme weather’ right now, but this could become our new ‘normal’. With that in mind, I think we need to consider new ways of growing peaches. There’s a lot of unknowns that can only be understood by trying new things out. All we can do is base what we do on our data and prepare for the next season the best we can. It is a lot more difficult growing peaches these days, but I just have to get on with it!”

Big peaches (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Yamashita, tending his trees with dedication and care and nurturing the next generation of growers all in the pursuit of delivering the tastiest peaches to customers, wears an expression that shows he enjoys taking on challenges.

“Growing fruit in Japan is laborious and requires meticulous attention. Perhaps the reason for that is the Japanese consumer prefers eating the raw fruit, rather than having it in some processed form. When Japanese people see a certain fruit, they truly ‘feel’ the time of year and really enjoy eating fruit that is in season. I hope to contribute to the continuation of that part of our culture.”

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:

Peach Senka Yamashita

Photos: Yuka Uesawa
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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