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In conversation with Taizo Sano 
The man behind the biggest horticulture project in Japan

In Kasoaka, Japan, construction of the horticultural project measuring 128,269 m2 is well underway. The complex comprises three greenhouses where lettuce, tomatoes and red peppers will be grown. Time for an interview with Sano-San, an old acquaintance of Van der Hoeven and one of the founders of the largest horticultural project in Japan.

1. Can you tell us something about your career?

After graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture, Kyoto Prefectural University, I started my career at Kagome Co., Ltd., the largest producer of tomato based products in Japan. After becoming the President of Kagome USA in 1998, I managed Kagome’s fresh tomato business at large-scale greenhouses, and I became a managing executive officer in 2006. After retiring from Kagome in 2016, I founded SARA Inc.
 
2. What is the mission of your company SARA?
At SARA — which stands for Smart Agribusiness Research & Alliance — we want everyone to enjoy fresh, tasty, healthy, and safe grown vegetables in Japan year-round. To achieve this goal, we are combining cutting-edge horticultural technology with state-of-the-art renewable energy technology to create an efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective agricultural system.
For our roll-out, we have chosen as our stage a vast area of reclaimed land in Kasaoka Bay, Okayama Prefecture. One of the four largest areas of reclaimed land in Japan, this region’s virgin soil provides the perfect environment for an entirely new approach to farming. Both working closely with local communities and engaging in intensive research and development, as well as developing strategic relationships with a variety of companies, we aim to establish an agricultural model that will connect us to the future.
Our strength lies not only in the size of our company, but in the scope of our ambition. Our commitment is to grow into a future vegetable company not just in Japan, but in all of Asia, evolving the innovative cultivation technologies we now possess into something even more advanced and efficient. 

3. In Kasaoka, Japan, you are currently building the most large-scale horticultural project of its kind.
This horticultural project covers 128,269 m² and consists of three greenhouses where lettuce, tomatoes and peppers will be grown. 
What made you decide to build this high-tech greenhouse project at this stage of your career?

Even after building several glass greenhouses in Japan in the course of the past 20 years, I could not achieve an innovative level of tomato horticulture. For the future of the Japanese greenhouse industry and young horticulturists, I would like to demonstrate a large-scale successful horticultural business that does not depend on subsidies.

4. What makes this project unique?
SARA’s projects have been built in partnership with Van der Hoeven from the Netherlands and Takuma of Japan. This top-tech semi-closed greenhouse and advanced biomass power plant alliance creates the world’s first air conditioned greenhouse that runs on renewable energy.
 
5. Where are you going to market your lettuce, tomatoes and peppers?
SARA markets high quality vegetables mainly at major supermarkets in Japan.

6. How long have you been working with Van der Hoeven?
The first meeting with Van der Hoeven was about 20 years ago in Canada. 
After many greenhouse visits and consultations, I chose Van der Hoeven for the (10 ha) largest tomato greenhouse in Japan in 2003.

7. How would you describe the collaboration with Van der Hoeven?
I am pleased with Van der Hoeven’s open company culture which allows us to communicate with everyone at the company: from top management, to skilled engineers, project managers, shipping staff, sales people, and onsite supervisors.

8. What’s your vision on the future of horticulture in Japan?
The industry has been evolving towards modern greenhouses, but the majority of vegetables grown is still produced by small family-owned plastic greenhouses built with subsidies. I believe the Japanese government should initiate the development of huge agro parks for large-scale horticulture companies.

9. What is your ambition / your company’s ambition for the next 5 years?  
After successful roll-out of the current SARA project, I expect to expand the next phase of a similar greenhouse with domestic and international investors on reclaimed land in Kasaoka.  Furthermore, SARA hopes to export high quality fresh vegetables to major cities in South-West Asian countries.  I also see opportunities to build similar projects based on the same SARA business models in these Asian countries as well.

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