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Home>FFTC Document Database>Extension Bulletins>Crop-Livestock Integration in Hokkaido, Japan, Based on Ammonia Treated Straw As Livestock Feed
Crop-Livestock Integration in Hokkaido, Japan, Based on Ammonia Treated Straw As Livestock Feed
Hiroki Ukawa
Department of Rural Development
Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station
Hitsujigaoka, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 062 Japan, 1995-06-01


Upland farms in Hokkaido have achieved an enlarged scale of production and specialized products. Their main problems are how to reduce costs, improve the quality of upland products, and develop new products. The paper discusses the case of Shirataki village, located in a marginal upland area, where the agricultural system is solving these problems. Beef cattle have been introduced into the upland farming system. A beef cattle raising center is managed by an agricultural cooperative. It raises new-born bull calves produced in dairy farming. The main roughage feed for beef cattle is ammonia treated wheat straw, a by-product of upland farming. Bark, a by-product from sawmills, is used as bedding. Compost and barnyard manure from cattle raising are supplied to upland farms. In this integrated system, ammonia treatment of wheat straw is a key technology. This makes it possible to raise beef cattle by utilizing a regional resource. Raising beef cattle is intensive and profitable, while the manure compost it supplies brings yield increases and improved quality to upland production.

Abstracts in Other Languages: 中文(1482), 日本語(1402), 한국어(1098)


In 1961, Japan enacted the Basic Law of Agriculture which supported an expansion in the size of farms to balance farmers' incomes with those of city workers. Hokkaido has been called the "honor student" of the Basic Law of Agriculture, because of its success in expanding the average farm size and developing specialized crops ( Table 1(1151)). However, since the end of the 1970s, overproduction and competition from imports has caused a decline in the prices of upland crops ( Table 2(1287)). There is a need for upland farms in Hokkaido to lower their costs, and also to improve the quality of their products, since there has been an expansion of the price differential between low- and high-grade products. Recently, the rate at which farm size has expanded has slowed, partly because of the demand for more intensive crops. In Hokkaido upland farming, a four-year crop rotation system is popular, consisting of wheat, sugarbeet, beans and potato. As farms expand, they tend to plant more wheat because of its high profit. It causes many problems when crop rotation is replaced by monocropping. Such farms need a new crop rotation system that provides a high profit while maintaining soil fertility.

This is especially true of marginal upland areas, where the yield and quality of crops are lower than in more central upland areas. Vegetable production is difficult in such areas. These are intensive crops with a high labor input, but marginal slopelands have lost a large part of their former population.

On the other hand, if the decline in upland crop prices continues, all upland farms are eventually going to be affected, and few of them will be able to employ farm workers. In this respect, the problem of marginal upland farming can be seen to affect upland farms in general. In this paper, we survey a marginal upland area affected by a fall in both population and prices, and also a central upland area, in an attempt to clarify the development of agricultural production in each area.

The example of a marginal upland area is a large beef cattle farm in Shiritaki village, in an area where there is quite advanced crop-livestock integration based on the ammonia treatment of wheat straw. The example of a central upland area is a dairy farm near Obihiro city which uses an advanced form of ammonia treatment for wheat straw produced on the farm itself, and a third group of upland farms, in Otofuke, where ammonia treatment was adopted in 1993. All these are on the island of Hokkaido.

A New Ammonia Treatment for Straw

The key technology in Hokkaido's improved crop-livestock production is the ammonia treatment of low-quality roughage such as straw, thus improving its feed value and the feed intake of animals. The feeding value of the treated straw is equivalent to `late crop hay' and the level of TDN (total digestible nutrients, on a dry matter basis) is about 54%, which is higher than the standard level in hay in Hokkaido. The ammonia treatment is known in Japan as `Hokuno S', and was developed by the Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station. Farmers collect and pack the straw, and the ammonia injection is done by a contractor. This makes the method safer and more reliable, and also reduces the cost. As a result, ammonia treatment has come into widespread use for the first time in Hokkaido.

Ammonia treatment technology began to be tested in the 1970's in Japan, and came into use in some parts of the country, although not much in Hokkaido. Some Hokkaido farmers did try it, but found the ammonia injection of hay very troublesome. The treatment was finally abandoned when it became clear that it could not be adapted to the roll bale, which was coming into use at that time. In the new ammonia treatment, the contractor injects the ammonia as a liquid within a short space of time, freeing the farmers from this chore. However, when the new treatment was being extended to farmers, many kept their old attitude that `Ammonia treatment is troublesome', which slowed down the rate of adoption.

Ammonia Treatment in a Marginal Upland Area

The Agricultural System

Shirataki village is located in the northeast of Hokkaido, and its agriculture is marginal because of the high, steep terrain, causing cold-weather damage and water deficit. Its population has fallen drastically since 1960. Currently, a small number of farm households are producing dairy cattle or upland crops, having enlarged their scale of operations by acquiring abandoned farmland. After enlarging their cultivated area, most farmers increased the proportion of their land planted in wheat ( Table 3(1270)). Wheat gives a good profit and is a labor-saving crop. However, with the recent decline in the price of farm products, the profitability of upland farms has fallen. In particular, larger farms face low profitability compared to smaller ones (Figs. 1 Fig. 2(1213)).

Improved farming methods were sought that could satisfy the following two conditions.

  • Production would have relatively low costs and be profitable, as well as maintaining soil fertility.
  • Crop production could become more intensive, and there would be more use of regional resources as raw materials.

The agricultural development of Shiritaki village was planned and carried out as a coordinated project under the Regional Resource Use System ( Fig. 3(1494)). It had as its core the Beef Cattle Raising Center and the use of factory by-products.

The Beef Cattle Raising Center operates in the following manner:

  • The Center buys new-born bull calves, which are a by-product of dairy farms, at a price US$100 higher than the market price per head. These calves are then raised as beef cattle.
  • The Center also buys the wheat straw which is a by-product of upland farms in the village. The straw is treated with ammonia, and used as the only roughage feed. The Center also uses a formula concentrate, the raw materials of which are by-products of the grain elevator in the village, such as broken wheat, for fattening cattle ( Table 4(1117)).
  • Bark, a by-product from a local sawmill, is processed into bedding at the bark pulverizing facility (located next to the Beef Cattle Center) and supplied to the Beef Cattle Center.
  • The bark pulverizing facility receives the mixture of bedding and manure from the Beef Cattle Center, piles it up to decompose for one year, and then sells it as bark compost to upland farms at less than half the production cost.

The use of factory by-products operates as follows:

  • Some upland farms would start breeding beef cattle, and produce calves, using ammonia treated feed made from wheat straw produced on the same farm.
  • Dairy farms would obtain wheat straw from upland farms in exchange for compost, and use it as bedding or treat it with ammonia to use as feed. The Land Fertility Improvement Union supplied fluid starch waste, and also slurry from cow manure to upland farms, and the Agricultural Coo-perative supplied grain processing by-products such as broken wheat as compound feed to cattle farms. The ammonia treatment in upland dairy and beef farms has been in widespread use since 1989.


The success of this program use can be evaluated from several viewpoints ( Table 5(1305)):

From the point of increasing produc-tivity, the program promotes the fattening of cattle and the production of breeding cattle, bedding, ammonia treated feed and compost, the last of which increases crop production when it is supplied to the farm. (In Table 5(1305), the effect is calculated tentatively as the increased yield of wheat, but its effect contributes to the increased quality and yield of all crops, and the lowering of production costs).

From an economic point of view, the profit of the Beef Cattle Center is zero, because we offset the US$90,000 actual profit with the wages of the Agricultural Cooperative workers. The bark pulverizing facility made a $464,900 loss. However, upland farmers made a net profit of $636,900 (calculated on the increased yield of wheat as a result of compost applications), dairy farms $486,00 and the sawmill $1,105,800. The Regional Resource Use System's total net profit was thus $1,763,800. However, if the commission given the Agricultural Cooperatives by the Beef Cattle Center and the production output of the bark pulverizing facility of $1,039,500 are considered, both facilities are in the black. Thus, the Regional Resource Use System greatly increased the total profitability of the upland farming system.

In terms of total production returns, the Beef Cattle Center had an estimated net profit of $1,402,500, the bark pulverizing facility $1,010,900, the Agricultural Cooperative $395,000, upland farmers $636,900, dairy farmers $486,000, the sawmill $1,105,800, and the ammonia contractor $95,000. The total net product of this subsystem was $5,132,100. This works out as an average of $479,000 (Hokkaido 1990) for each worker employed by the system, the equivalent of wages of 10.7 people.

In this way, this new system of beef cattle production based on regional resources promotes more intensive farming, while the improvement in land fertility gives increased yields of better quality, contributing to the increased productivity and economic improvement of farming in the region.

Upland Crop and Cattle Farms

Upland crop farmers use their own wheat straw for the ammonia treated feed which serves as the basic roughage for breeding beef cattle. The production of breeding beef cattle was introduced into Shirataki village 1984, and has spread to many upland farms. Even though upland farms do not have a large production base, the use of ammonia-treated roughage made possible a steady increase in the number of beef cattle.

An indirect effect of raising beef cattle by this system is that the cattle manure increases fertility when it is returned to the soil. This makes possible the cultivation of vegetables such as asparagus. Since the use of ammonia treated wheat straw and other local resources makes the cost of breeding cattle comparatively low, this can be categorized as a high-profit intensive activity. At the same time, it contributes to diversified farming in two ways, by its contribution to soil fertility, and in terms of profit diversification.

The second farm which served as a case study was a large upland crop and beef cattle farm owned by a limited liability company, breeding beef cattle with wheat as the principal crop. The labor force included three brothers, two successors to the business, and 10 women, including the employee's wives (part-time workers).

The farm consisted of 193.34 ha of upland fields (5.34 ha of which was leased land), plus 6.21 ha of grassland and 3.50 ha of grazing land. The beef cattle were Japanese black cattle, comprising 60 breeding cows and 257 head of fattening cattle. In 1990 the planted acreage consisted of 53.8 ha of potato, 94.7 ha of wheat, 19.3 ha of soybean, 10.6 ha of sweetcorn, and 8.1 ha of broccoli ( Table 6(1437)). In the past, only wheat and potato had been planted, resulting in injury from continuous cropping. By 1990, because of the use of compost (either self-supplied or purchased from the bark pulverizing facility) the planted acreage of vegetables had increased and farm productivity rose. By 1994, the range of crops had expanded to include buckwheat and sugarbeet.

In 1987, seven female beef cattle were introduced onto the farm, and by 1989 there were 51 head. From 1990 they stopped selling calves, and switched to fattening cattle. Feed supplied for the breeding beef cattle contains regional by-products such as treated straw, starch, and wheat straw and chaff ( Table 7(1188)). The main roughage feed is treated straw, contributing to a large extent to the low cost of beef cattle production. The cost of calves (10-month old) is $2120 per head, compared to a selling price of $4340.

The cost of the ammonia treated straw is only $0.11 per kg, if the cost of the straw itself, which is the farm's own by-product, is excluded ( Table 8(1245)). The feeding value of ammonia treated straw is equivalent to late crop hay, which is currently being sold in Hokkaido for $0.27 - $0.33. Using the treated straw thus saves $11,000 - $15,200 on feeding costs ($230 - $320 per calf). On this farm, beef cattle raising is also making a major contribution to increased soil fertility and higher overall profitability.

The use of the ammonia treatment expanded as the number of beef cattle increased. By 1992, 800 rolls of wheat straw were being treated (300 kg/roll). The amount of wheat straw needed for feed and bedding eventually reached 1,500 rolls/year, of which 200 rolls were purchased from outside. Formerly, the farm used to grow more than 100 ha of wheat and sell a large amount of wheat straw. Nowadays, the decrease in the wheat crop corresponds to the increase in the vegetable crop, while the expansion in cattle raising made necessary the purchase of wheat straw.

In earlier years, this farm would plow waste straw back into the soil, promoting the spread of wheat diseases. With the introduction of the ammonia treatment, this was discontinued. The compost from cattle manure enriched the soil, allowing the farmers to grow vegetables, thereby increasing the intensity and profitability of crop production.

Ammonia Treatment in the Central Upland Area

A Dairy Farm

The farm in the case study is near Obihiro city, and is run by a husband and wife. It has 24 ha of arable land, all in upland crops, and a dairy herd of 40 cows and 36 heifers. The planted area in 1991 was 1.5 ha of corn and 22.5 ha of grass (timothy). The corn was made into silage, and most of the grass, too, was made into silage after being mowed four times. The grass silage is the main source of roughage feed. Roll bale silage is freely eaten in the paddock by all cows, while ammonia treated wheat straw is supplied to the heifers and dry cows.

For good milk production, it is important that dairy cows have a high feed intake. Roughage must therefore be palatable, but the previously supplied hay (made from the second crop of timothy) was poor in quality. In contrast ammonia treated wheat straw is stable in quality and palatable to cows. It is now being provided as a roughage feed for heifers, together with grass silage ( Fig. 4(1214) Table 9(1575)).

The purpose introducing the ammonia treatment technology to farmers in the study area was to replace poor-quality, unpalatable hay with treated wheat straw which would stimulate dairy cows to eat well. One indirect benefit was a reduction in the amount of hay needed, making farmers less dependant on fine weather for hay-making. Furthermore, as the supply of roughage increased, the farm could produce more grass (for silage), so that feed quality improved.

Since the ammonia treatment can be done at any time, provided the wheat straw is dry, farmers can decide according to their needs how much wheat straw to treat and use as feed, and how much to leave untreated to use as bedding. In this way, the introduction of ammonia treatment technology is contributing to greater stability in the roughage supply, as well as to its higher quality.

Upland Farms

The pilot project testing the ammonia treatment technology on upland farms was in Otofuke, under a project called `Regional Integration' which has been conducted since 1993 by the Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station. Otofuki town is in a central upland area. In 1993, 75% of local farms were specialized upland farms, 14% were dairy farms, and 6% were beef cattle farms.

All four households in the study were upland farms producing the same range of basic crops (wheat, sugarbeet, potato etc). As we have seen in the previous section, ammonia treatment technology is highly suited to farms which combine upland crops with cattle production, because homegrown wheat straw can be used as cattle feed, giving a feed base to farms that have only arable land.

Farmers No. 1 and No. 2 each had 25 ha of farmland and their farms were typical mixed upland cropping/beef cattle farms (the average herd size in Otofuke is 15 head of breeding beef cattle). The treated homegrown wheat straw replaced corn silage, bean straw, and hay, and was fed to the breeding cattle.

Farmer No. 3 had 34 ha of farmland which he used for fattening more than 100 head of beef cattle, an unusually large herd for this area. Since he did not have enough of his own homegrown wheat straw for this number of cattle, he traded compost for a further supply of wheat straw. This was then treated and fed to the breeding and fattening cattle, replacing purchased hay and bean straw.

Farmer No. 4 had 45 ha of farmland, and produced upland crops and heifers. At one time he had 25 heifers, but the herd was reduced to five in early 1994 when conditions became unfavorable for dairying. Homegrown wheat straw was treated and fed to the heifers, replacing hay.

The ammonia treatment had a good reputation among the farmers in the study. Farmers No. 1 and No. 3 were particularly pleased, since they had both used the old method of treatment and expected the new one to be equally difficult. They were surprised at the ease of the improved treatment when it was explained and shown to them. However, the improved technology must be demonstrated to farmers, who take some time to understand and accept the new method.

Farmer No. 1 found he had no need for treated wheat straw, since his other feed resources, such as public pasture, were more than adequate for his herd. For Farmers No. 2 and 4, the use of ammonia treated straw meant that they could reduce their acreage of grass and increase the area planted in upland crops, while Farmer No. 3 was able to reduce his purchase of hay. It was clear that for three out of the four farmers, the ammonia treatment was highly suitable and increased the overall profitability of their farming.


The analyzed results up to this point can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. In each type of farming system studied, the use of treated straw in place of hay and other feeds made possible an increase in the number of cattle. With a more stable and plentiful supply of roughage, substantial cost savings could be expected.
  • 2. The introduction of the ammonia treated straw changed farm management. On farms producing upland crops and beef cattle, more intensive farming could be developed, with an increase in the number of beef cattle, the introduction of vegetables, and the use of composted cattle manure. On dairy farms, there was an improvement in the quality of self-supplied roughage, along with improved productivity. On the large beef cattle farm, compost was exchanged for wheat straw treated with ammonia, contributing to the improvement of regional farm productivity.
  • 3. There seem to be no marked regional distinctions. In the central upland area, the increase in beef production remains weak although highly adaptable farms showed a change in their farm structure after two years. How this will develop further is the subject of further study.

These examples show that when a key technology such as ammonia treatment is introduced, several benefits can be realized, including an improvement in the profitability and productivity of upland farms, preservation of the environment through sustained land fertility, and a way of slowing down or stopping the abandonment of upland agricultural land.

In Shirataki village, prior to the organization of the Regional Resource Use System, development planning was based on the assumption that this was a marginal area of low productivity, since farmers maintained themselves by the use of minimum labor and by means of institutional protection. However, this developmental pattern eventually reached its limit, since it could not be sustained with the decline in the price of farm products. Thus, it became necessary to organize a new farming system which could give greater independence to upland farmers.

The developmental logic of Shirataki village create the dilemma that an expanding wheat crop was needed to sustain an ever more marginal upland area. This can be turned into a positive factor if this increased wheat crop can be given ammonia treatment, converting wheat straw into livestock feed. By diversifying crop production and introducing cattle, it became possible to have more intensive farming which sustained the long-term fertility of the land.


  • Manda, T., M. Murai, H. Ukawa and A. Yamazaki. 1992. The "HOKUNOUS" system, a new method of ammonia treatment for straw. Miscellaneous Publication of the Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station 48: 1-196. (In Japanese).
  • Ukawa, H. 1992. Agricultural system in marginal upland area. Hokkaido Journal of Agricultural Economics 2,1: 1-13. (In Japanese, with English summary).
  • Ukawa, H. 1994. Development of livestock farming and environmental problem in upland areas. Miscellaneous Publication of the Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station 50: 49-61. (In Japanese).
  • Ukawa, H. 1994. Economic analysis of a new ammonia treatment method for straw. Research Bulletin of the Hokkaido National Agricultural Experiment Station 159: 87-107. (In Japanese, with English summary).

Index of Images

Figure 1 Area Planted in Wheat and Profitability of Upland Farms, Shirataki (1989)

Figure 1 Area Planted in Wheat and Profitability of Upland Farms, Shirataki (1989)


Figure 2 Changes in Level of Debt According to Farming Scale, Shirataki (1989)

Figure 2 Changes in Level of Debt According to Farming Scale, Shirataki (1989)


Figure 3 Agricultural System in Shirataki Village (1992 Year)

Figure 3 Agricultural System in Shirataki Village (1992 Year)

Figure 4 Development of Feed Production (Dairy Farm)

Figure 4 Development of Feed Production (Dairy Farm)

Table 1 Changes in Farm Size in Hokkaido and the Rest of Japan

Table 1 Changes in Farm Size in Hokkaido and the Rest of Japan

Table 2 Changes in the Commodity Price Index (1951:100)

Table 2 Changes in the Commodity Price Index (1951:100)

Table 3 Changes in Area Planted in Wheat, Shirataki

Table 3 Changes in Area Planted in Wheat, Shirataki

Table 4 Feeding of Beef Cattle at the Beef Cattle Center, Shirataki, Hokkaido

Table 4 Feeding of Beef Cattle at the Beef Cattle Center, Shirataki, Hokkaido

Table 5

Table 5

Table 6 Crops Grown on a Mixed Beef-Crop Farm (1990)

Table 6 Crops Grown on a Mixed Beef-Crop Farm (1990)

Table 7 Feeding of Beef Cattle (Mixed Upland Crops-Beef Cattle Farm)

Table 7 Feeding of Beef Cattle (Mixed Upland Crops-Beef Cattle Farm)

Table 8 Cost of Treated Ammonia Straw<Sup>1</Sup>

Table 8 Cost of Treated Ammonia Straw 1

Table 9 Feeding of Dairy Cows on Dairy Farm

Table 9 Feeding of Dairy Cows on Dairy Farm

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