When an overtime cap hits Japan's logistics industry next month, exacerbating an existing shortage of drivers, producers of the premium Amao strawberry will be among those counting the potential cost.

Grown in the southwestern prefecture of Fukuoka, the large, rounded strawberry is known for its bright red color and sweet yet slightly tart flavor. About 70 percent of the crop is currently shipped by truck to areas around Tokyo and Osaka and sold just a few days after being picked.

"My worry is that we may lose out to other areas if our strawberries become less fresh and shipping fees increase," said Motoki Uehara, who runs a strawberry farm in Oki, Fukuoka.

Premium "Amao" Japanese strawberries, grown in Fukuoka Prefecture, southwestern Japan, are shown in photo taken on March 8, 2024. (Kyodo)

Local agricultural cooperatives are looking at ferry shipping as an alternative to truck delivery as Japan's logistics industry prepares for its so-called 2024 problem when the new limit on the number of overtime hours drivers of trucks, taxis and buses can work takes effect in April.

Currently, Amao strawberries destined for the Tokyo metropolitan area travel over 1,000 kilometers by truck from Fukuoka. The travel time is about 15 hours.

The transport of fresh fruits and vegetables requires care from drivers to make sure temperatures are properly controlled and the products are delivered on time.

To cope with the new restrictions, a new logistical hub was completed last fall in Kitakyushu, a major entry point to the Kyushu region. Products can be stored at low temperatures before they are loaded onto ferries for delivery.

While it may take longer than truck delivery, local specialties like Fukuoka's Amao can be delivered to the Tokyo area and put up for auction in a few days.

With transport costs for trucks possibly set to increase, local agricultural cooperatives said they are trying to figure out to what extent they can switch to ferry shipping, which is usually more costly than truck delivery.

Other areas in the Kyushu region known for their premium strawberries such as Kumamoto Prefecture with its "Yubeni" and Nagasaki Prefecture with its "Yumenoka" are also grappling with shipping challenges.

"We will try to choose the right timing to ship our strawberries so they will not go bad during their delivery (to consumers). We want to be the brand of their choice," said Yukio Yoshida, an official with a local agricultural cooperative in Fukuoka.

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