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Friday, July 27, 2012

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Cash crop: Japanese visit rape fields at East Lodge Farm in Worcestershire, England, on April 5. KYODO

Tourists flocking to see Britain's yellow fields


LONDON — A tour company is taking Japanese to visit rape fields in Britain after they started to become intrigued by the crop, which turns a bright yellow in spring.

Around 1,000 people have toured the fields at East Lodge Farm in Worcestershire, central England, this year and more are expected next year.

They learn about rape, a member of the cabbage and mustard family that produces bright yellow flowers for up to two months a year, and how its seeds are crushed to produce oil used for a variety of purposes.

That Japanese tourists are visiting these fields might come as something of a surprise to Britons, many of whom feel the crop is becoming too dominant and find it clashes with the green landscape.

Charlie Beldam, who runs East Lodge Farm, said Miki Travel Ltd. contacted him after the tour company noticed its Japanese clients were taking photos of the fields as they passed by on coach trips.

This year Miki Travel decided to include a short stop at the farm as part of an itinerary that has always dealt with more conventional tourist spots in the Cotswolds, an area of Britain famed for its picturesque countryside.

"Each bus has 49 people," said Beldam, who grows the seed to produce cooking oil. "We show them the process from the field to the bottle. We explain what we do with the plant and walk them into the factory and show how the seeds are crushed to make the oil.

"The reaction has been very positive. It's something very different to what they normally see, which is usually the historic buildings. They ask a lot of questions and like the colorful flowers and to see how British farming is done."

He charges £1 (about ¥120) per person, and at the end of the visit the visitors can purchase bottles of cooking oil from the farm's shop.

The farm also runs tours around its flax fields, which produce bright blue-purple flowers in August. The yellow rape flowers normally fade in June.

"In general, our customers enjoy very much the rapeseed," Ikuo Shibuya, a divisional manager at Miki Travel, said. "The idea behind featuring the rapeseed is to show to our clients the way in which the color of the countryside in Britain changes through the year, and we also have tours which include the changes of the leaves in autumn. Japanese are very interested in this aspect of the countryside.

"We do have rapeseed fields in Japan, but they are not on the same scale as in Britain."

As far as Beldam is aware, his is the only farm providing tours to rape fields, and the publicity surrounding his Japanese visitors in the British media has led to requests for visits from agricultural specialists and food experts.

Beldam is quick to defend rape from the critics who claim it is becoming omnipresent.

Like other farmers, he rotates rape in his fields with other crops and argues it is better for the soil than other plants because it takes fewer nutrients and improves drainage.

Rapeseed is used as biofuel, as well as in cosmetics and animal feed. It is also used as oil for cooking and is considered to have many healthy properties.

As a result of growing demand, approximately 17 percent of Britain's arable land is now covered with rape. The flowers are a relatively common sight on the European continent as well as in North America.

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