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Demonstration farm may change Chinese agriculture

Writer: Winton Dong  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2017-10-09

Email of the writer: dht0620@126.com

On Sept. 23 this year, construction of the first China-U.S. Friendship Demonstration Farm was kicked off in Luanping County, Hebei Province.

Covering an area of 1,330 hectares, the Chinese farm is modeled after an American farm in Maxwell, Iowa. The U.S. farm is 1,600 hectares and owned by Rick and Martha Kimberley and their son Grant. In 1985, President Xi Jinping, then a county Party chief in Hebei, led an agricultural delegation to Iowa and paid a visit to the farm. In 2012, he visited Iowa for a second time and said that Chinese farms should learn from and be modeled after the Kimberleys’ farm.

While attending the kicking-off ceremony of the Chinese farm, Terry Branstad, U.S. ambassador to China, said: “The farm stands as an example of how we can exchange information and ideas, and maintain a growing and improving trade relationship.” Branstad also recalled his interactions with President Xi during the two visits. Before being appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to China by the Trump administration this year, he was the governor of Iowa for more than 30 years and had developed a good personal relationship with the Chinese president.

The demonstration farm serves not only as a symbol of Sino-American friendship, but also may change the future of Chinese agriculture.

The 1,600-hectare Kimberley farm only employs three people. Through the use of modern technology and management methods, the Kimberleys are able to use GPS to make sure that they don’t overplant, overuse chemicals or overfertilize; every step of the farm’s operation is monitored and standardized.

The American method of farming sharply contrasts with the traditional Chinese agricultural model. For example, in Luanping County, where the demonstration farm is located, farms are operated on much smaller scales by each household, usually 0.09 hectare per person. Moreover, most farming work in China, from planting to harvest, is done manually.

With outdated technology and low efficiency, it is very difficult for most farmers in China’s vast remote areas to make a decent livelihood by farming alone. Under these circumstances, the children of farmers who are educated in big cities are not interested in returning home to take over the family farm work, much less young talent from urban areas.

Top Chinese leaders have come to realize the importance of agriculture to China. In February 2017, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council issued their first policy document of the year, aiming to bring new momentum into the country’s agricultural sector. It is the 14th consecutive year in which the first policy document in a year has focused on agricultural issues. This not only shows our Party and the Central Government’s great attention to agricultural development, but also reveals big challenges in the rejuvenation of farmland, farming and farmers in the country.

In order to create more large-scale and modern farms in China, we should first give more usufruct rights to farmers. To further stimulate and modernize Chinese agriculture, those farmers who have moved to work in cities are now allowed to transfer their land use rights to individuals or agricultural business groups who are interested in large-scale farming. As for farmers who prefer to stay in rural areas, they are also encouraged to turn their assets, including land use rights and other operation assets, into shares in various ventures. By doing so, land rights and operation assets will be quantified and allocated to members of collective economic organizations in the forms of shares and allotments.

Sufficient spending in rural areas, such as on water supplies, power grid construction and measures to cope with soil erosion and farmland degradation, is very important to making sure that large-scale agriculture will operate smoothly. In the face of an economic slowdown in China, increasing investment in rural areas and the agricultural sector will surely generate better benefits and help to keep a steady growth of the country’s GDP. By channeling more investment into agriculture in various ways and ensuring a reasonable return for investors, more talent and youth will be lured to the farming industry and start their businesses in the countryside, bringing with them new technologies and modern methods of production and business operation.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)