Friday, August 12, 2011

College-educated Farmer

One of the new strategies for transforming Chinese agriculture is to create a new cadre of educated farmers who will take the place of China's missing extension service by becoming early adopters of new techniques and transmitting them to their neighbors.

An article appearing on the Zhejiang Daily news site tells the story of 27-year-old Wang Binbin who took up a career as a rice farmer following his graduation from university. This appears to be a propaganda piece that provides a model of the new breed of farmers China would like to cultivate. His story includes many of the new trends in agriculture now being promoted by Chinese officialdom: college students "sent down" to the countryside, adoption of ecological pest control, large-scale farming, entrepreneurship, cooperatives, and mechanization.

Zhang graduated from Anhui University with a degree in Law in 2005 (In China a law degree seems to be primarily preparation for a career as a communist party official, quite unlike the western law school career path), and he took a job in the land management office in Yuanqiao Town. After the 2009 "Number 1 Document" was released and he saw the favorable policies for farmers, he realized that agriculture was a big field for entrepreneurship. He went back home to become a farmer.

Zhang formed a machinery cooperative with 7 farmers, borrowed 190,000 yuan to buy agricultural machinery so the entire farming process could be mechanized--planting, pest control, fertilizing, harvesting, and drying of crops. Each year Zhang rents 160 mu of land to grow rice, and his yield is double what his father got.

Seeing the labor-intensity of rice harvesting, he read up on mechanization and joined with a friend to design a new way of mechanizing the rice harvest. He got a national patent on his innovation. He improved the grain-drying equipment, reducing labor requirements from five people to one.

Last year there was a big rain 3 days before harvest, and he lost over 200,000 yuan when 350 mu of early rice was flooded. This year he will control misfortune and risk by increasing the scale of production and usuing new-style production methods.

This year Zhang contracted 1060 mu of land for one-season rice in Hubei's Xinzhou, producing nearly 420,000 kg.

Zhang has an "ecological mindset." He is testing out non-chemical pest control methods: netting and lights to keep bugs away on 30 mu. The "ecological" methods give him a lower yield of 200 kg, but the ecological rice brings what sounds like an absurdly high price of 160 yuan per kilogram. He plans to spread this technique to more of his land.

Among neighboring farmers, Zhang is seen as capable and enthusiastic. An old farmers couldn’t find people to harvest his rice when it matured. Zhang heard about it and brought his machinery to help him. In the last few days, Zhang delivered pesticide and seed worth 20,000 yuan to his neighbors. This year he delivered enough seedlings to neighbors to cover 300 mu, a pest control system used on 1000 mu and mechanized transplanting on 2000 mu.

Zhang sounds too good to be true. Maybe he is, but if he inspires a new breed of educated super-farmers he will have done his job.

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