NARO Institute of Floricultural Science (NIFS)
Food is necessary for us to live on a day to day basis. However, Japan’s calorie-based (domestically supplied calorific value per person per day divided by supply heat capacity per person per day) food self-sufficiency rate (in 2014) for rice, a staple food, is 98 percent. However, wheat is 13 percent, and fruits are 37 percent, where majority of our foods rely on exports. As a developed nation, Japan stands as one of the worst in terms of its food self-sufficiency rate. Japan is at a state of satiation with no problems with hunger. However, if you take a look at the world, there are places that are experiencing issues of food shortages due to population upsurge. Therefore, the government is looking at various ways to improve food self-sufficiency rates. The National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation (NARO), one of the nation’s largest research organisation for “food, agriculture, and agricultural community” takes part in technological development that supports the preservation of agricultural community environments and national land resources, the restoration of agriculture and agricultural communities, as well as securing of stable food supply to contribute to the country’s efforts to actualize such promises. NARO became an incorporated administrative agency after combining the 12 research and development institutes under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2001. In 2003, it combined with the Bio-oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution, and in 2006 with the National Research Institute of Agricultural Engineering, National Food Research Institute, and National Farmers Academy. In April of 2015, the Act of General Rules for Incorporated Administrative Agency was revised and NARO was administered as a National Research and Development Organization. Currently, NARO holds 14 research institutes and centers. This issue focuses on the Institute of Floricultural Science.
The Institute of Floricultural Science Takes Part in Various Floricultural Research Projects
The NARO Institute of Floricultural Science is located in Tsukuba City in Ibaraki Prefecture. The closest station is Midorino Station or otherwise known as Tsukuba Station on the Tsukuba Express. You can see the main entrance of the NARO Institute of Floricultural Science if you drive around 15 minutes from the station. It is the only floricultural research institute in Japan that was established by the government. The National Institute of Fruit Tree Science is also in the same premises, where research on pests and the cultivation and breeding of tree species of citrus fruits, apples, Japanese pears, peaches, Japanese chestnuts, and grapes are executed. As a matter of fact, until 2001, the premises was all operating under the National Institute of Fruit Tree Science before the establishment of the Institute of Floricultural Science.
Since it is quite a distance from the nearest station, most researchers drive or bike to work.
Ms. Hiroko Yumoto, a senior researcher, showed us around her workplace, the Institute of Floricultural Science.
“The Institute of Floricultural Science promotes the following three research projects. The first is the development of efficient and coordinated production technology for chrysanthemums and other popular ornamental plants. The second project is the molecular breeding of ornamental plants. The third is the development of quality control technologies forornamental plants. In this way, research is done with these three main themes in mind - cultivation, breeding, and quality. I am in charge of quality control and preservation and have been since entering the institution. I am currently in charge of ‘the investigation of quality control mechanism of cut flowers and the technological development of quality evaluation, quality preservation, and quality improvement’ and do research on the quality control and preservation of cut flowers. I find out the senescing mechanism and physiology behind why cut flowers wilt and die, and investigate treatment methods in order to examine how consumers could enjoy flowers for a longer period of time.” (Ms. Yumoto)
“For example, research on functionality of a flower entails the study of how a scent of a flower effects a person’s psychological state. There are people from psychology and humanities backgrounds who are involved with such research.” (Ms. Yumoto)
The photo is of the greenhouse of Institute of Floricultural Science. She is harvesting dahlia which is currently under testing for quality control.
“We grow flower materials that we use for postharvest physiology-related testing here in this greenhouse. This dahlia cultivar is called ‘Kokucho.’ This cultivar is medium-large in size. However, there are some cultivars that grow to become larger than a human’s face. This flower is popular for bridal purposes. Since the longevity of the flower is not so long, there is low circulation around the flower shops in town. However, our research results will help increase the circulation opportunity of such flowers.” (Ms. Yumoto)
This is chamber controlling temperature and humidity constantly.
"We think about what kind of treatment and circulation processes will help the longevity of flowers. In order to find out we, not only, have to think about what kind of treating agent to use, but environmental factors such as temperature and humidity also varies. There is also a device that alters the oxygen concentration of the chamber. We find out the postharvest physiology of the ornamental plants by measuring the respiratory pattern of the plants using such devices. Of course, we also use this chamber to assess and investigate the best way postharvest quality of cut flowers are kept for long time. We do this by placing cut flowers that has been treated with preservative solution in the chamber, and change the temperature, humidity, and oxygen concentration to investigate and determine what kind of environment they should be shipped to have the most excellent flower longevity.” (Ms. Yumoto)
This photo shows Ms. Yumoto checking to see if the provided treatment is working effectively. The flower that Ms. Yumoto is holding in her hands is a small chrysanthemum (the red flowers are roses). This room is constantly kept at 23 degrees Celsius and a humidity rate of 70 percent.
"We check to see the conditions of the flowers and leaves to estimate whether the treatment method is functioning in this room. Depending on the type of plant, quality of flowers can be kept better under longer distribution processes. For example, chrysanthemums are one of them. Before the flower wilts, the leaves go yellow first.” (Ms. Yumoto)
In the case of dahlias, if you spray a plant hormone called cytokinin in the flower area, longevity of cut flowers extends for around three days longer. By increasing the flower longevity by three days, Handling at distribution process is made easier.
“The flower longevity of the cut flower, Russell prairie gentian, is extends when the flower is treated with an ethylene inhibitor. This is because ethylene is known to accelerate senescence of plants such as promotion of fruits ripening. So we tried treating dahlias with an ethylene inhibitor. However, there were no effects on extending their vase life. Dahlias are bulbous plants. So we tried effective treatment for calla lily which is also a bulbous plant (part of the Araceae family; the small bract leaves are grown for ornamental use. It is used for bridal purposes.) When tested with cytokinin to improve the longevity of dahlia flower, we found it to be effective. In this way, we test different kinds of methods for different types of plants to find the suitable treatment method for extending the vase life.” (Ms. Yumoto)
To determine and understand the senescing mechanism, they use gas chromatography (an instrumental analysis method used to identify and measure the dose of volatile compounds) to measure the level of ethylene and carbon dioxide. The photo shows Ms. Yumoto using a syringe-like injector to pour the sample she wants to measure.
“Ethylene accelerates the senescence of plants. By using gas chromatography, we can measure and determine the amount of ethylene. By doing so, we can figure out if ethylene is involved when a flower wilts.” (Ms. Yumoto)
This is the workspace in the research room. Each booth is separated so that every researcher can concentrate. One booth is around 2 mat units which is equivalent to 3.3 square meters.
“We put together experiment data and write manuscript here. The project that I am in charge of right now includes people from the local government and researchers from universities. Therefore, we call and meet outside to discuss matters and have meetings. We also proactively exchange information within the research institute as well.” (Ms. Yumoto)
On November 18th, 2015 the “Agribusiness Creation Fair 2015” took place. At that event, new research results from organizations in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and food from industry-academics all over the nation were introduced. It also is a place to stimulate and encourage the cooperation of fellow research institutes and business establishments. There are exhibitions, seminars, and symposiums as well as commendation ceremonies for researchers who made great achievements in research development in the field of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other related industries. Ms. Yumoto won the “Young Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Researcher Award” in regards to “Postharvest physiology and technology of important cut flowers in Japanese floral industry such as Eustoma, gentian and dahlia .” The photo is of the speech given after the award ceremony.
“Research results are not just presented within the nation. Results are also presented at international conferences as well.” (Ms. Yumoto)
We asked Ms. Yumoto about the charm, the rewarding aspects, and the mood of her workplace, “NARO Institute of Floricultural Science.”
Ms. Yumoto joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in April of 2000 after graduating from Kyoto University Faculty of Agriculture.
“I was actually apart of research related to tissue culture of chrysanthemums for two years as a research student after graduating from university. I wanted to work at a job that was helpful in agriculture, instead of continuing to do research at the university. Therefore, I took the examination to become a government employee. I did not necessarily have a strong desire to do research. However, the personnel management officer at the time had given me the advice that ‘You are suitable to do research work（適宜修正指摘ください）.’ Therefore, I requested for a research position and was assigned to the National Institute of Vegetable and Tea Science located in Mie Prefecture Tsu City. I belonged to the research department of ornamental plamts at that research institute. That is where I was able to take part in research related to the postharvest quality of cut flowers, what I am working on now.”
In 2001, Research and Development Institutes such as the National Institute of Vegetable and Tea Science of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries combined together. As it became an independent administrative institution, the research department of the ornamental plants became an independent research center and has been founded in the place that it is today.
We asked Ms. Yumoto what was fun and fulfilling about doing research every day on the quality of cut flowers.
"Research on the quality preservation and management regarding the distribution of fruit trees and vegetables is common. However, not so much has been done in terms of flowers. Moreover, cultivar variation of cut flowers is an increase as well as its popularity is changing. For example, for the Russell prairie gentian, previously, there was the single-petaled flower type that was mainstream. Now, double-flowered and large types are popular. , Even between the single-petaled and double-flowered Russell prairie gentian, there are some differences in postharvest character. We must accommodate for such differences and develop suitable treatment methods that provides the most ideal longevity for both types. It is fun to work in this field because you are constantly challenging new things. The most fulfilling aspect of the job is when you understand the plant’s physiological characteristics after undergoing multiple experiments. Finding clues on how to solve the problems that exist in the agricultural world and being able to contribute to agriculture is what makes me the most happy.”
Including the Institute of Floricultural Science, research developments that take place in NARO are mainly related to agriculture and food. Therefore, most of the researchers have a background in agriculture or science (biological science that is focused on plants). When you hear research institute, you may have an image of a graduate school graduate. However, there are people that take part in the research institute as college graduates like Ms. Yumoto. Ms. Yumoto apparently submitted a thesis which consisted of her research results compiled together and received a doctoral degree.
“The Institute of Floricultural Science is a relatively new research institution that has only been established 15 years ago. There are no strict vertical hierarchies that exist making the communication within the institution very open. A distinctive trait of the research institute is that there are many female researchers. It is not necessarily because the research institute focuses on cut flowers, but 10 out of 31 of the researchers are females. Therefore, I think that it makes it easy for women to make something out of their career here.”
A Once a Year Event That Showcases Research Results to the Public
At NARO, every research institute presents their research results to the public once a year. The Institute of Floricultural Science does so every April. The photo shows the presentation area. At this presentation, they showed carnations which is a spring flower. Not only do they present different types of flowers but they also set up a scent corner that allows people to experience different kinds of scents. It was popular amongst the people that came. New and experienced researchers, including Ms. Yumoto, take part in this event and answer questions that the visitors have for them.
Every year, the “Food Brand Nippon Fair” takes place, which uses food grown at NARO to make dishes that people can enjoy. The photo is of the sampling party, “Food Seminar” that took place in 2014 at Marunouchi at the Tokyo Trust City Conference.
At that seminar’s food tasting corner, the sweet potato “Beniharuka” and the pumpkin “Hottokekuritan” potage soups were served and were popular. The photo is of the potage soup made from Hottokekuritan. Hottokekuritan does not produce many vines. Therefore, it does not grab and interfere with the tip of the buds or there is no need to guide the vines. This makes it easier to cultivate. Apparently, its sweetness and softness are its key traits.
Three Numbers Related to NARO
NARO is one of the nation’s largest research institution of “food, agriculture, and agricultural community.” What do the following numbers represent?
- 60 percent