Slash and burn farming is known as yakihata (literally, “burning down the field”) agriculture in Japanese.Turnips grown through yakihata are called yakihata turnips.The Yakihata turnip is well known as one of the “indigenous crops” that have been carefully preserved by farmers since the Edo Period (1603-1868) in limited areas around Tsuruoka city; and there are various kinds of yakihata turnips by region. We visited the forest owned by the Field Science Center in the Faculty of Agriculture at Yamagata University. The university has attempting to deal with yakihata agriculture from new angles and has been engaged in it for 11 years in the university’s forest located in Kami-nagawa, in former Asahi-village, which is used as research field for students learning about forests and the forest industry in general. We interviewed some of the staff members to learn how they have kept their motivation for the yakihata agriculture to date.
“We started yakihata as part of our research 11 years ago, but we didn’t cultivate turnips then. Instead, we cultivated Fagus crenata and Dadacha beans (a type of green soybean), following the traditional farming method; 1) cutting down the forest, 2) burning the field, and 3) planting crops. Since then, however, we were unofficially planting Atsumi turnips (one of the indigenous crops of the region) for private consumption among colleagues, the seeds of which were bought from seeds shops. It was not until our second year that we started to cultivate yakihata turnips officially for our research.”
Traditional yakihata agriculture is closely related to the forest industry, and there is an academic course to learn forestry in the Faculty of Agriculture at Yamagata University. Although the University forest is mainly used for research related to forestry, yakihata turnips are also produced as a by-product of the field.
Mr. Daisuke Arai, technical personnel of the Yamagata University Forest, showed us the basic processes of the yakihata agriculture.