Sunday, June 19, 2016

China Launches Soybean High-Yield Projects

Agricultural officials in China will launch a series of soybean technique demonstration sites as part of their broader structural adjustment initiative. Agricultural extension officials will introduce techniques designed to raise soybean yields and reduce use of chemical fertilizer and herbicides. The program will budget 5.6 million yuan ($860,000) to fund dozens of 2000-mu (310 acre) sites in the country's frigid northeast and the Yellow River-Huai region of eastern China.

The "green high-yielding technology integrated demonstration" projects will encourage farmers to plant high-protein non-GMO soybean varieties for food use. The project hopes to make soybeans more profitable by raising yields and reducing expenses. By cutting chemical applications the project hopes to reduce expenses for farmers and make soybeans more environmentally-friendly. The document describing the program doesn't mention that chemical fertilizer use for soybeans is much lower than for corn--the crop that has crowded out soybeans in the project areas during recent years. It is unclear whether this is part of the 5.6-billion-yuan corn structural adjustment program announced earlier this year.

The project's emphasis on high-protein soybeans is notable. This is a reversal from the first subsidy for high quality soybean seeds (introduced in 2002) which encouraged farmers to plant varieties with high oil content in order to compete with imported soybeans for crushing to manufacturing cooking oil. Officials now appear to have thrown in the towel on high-oil beans. The domestic industry is producing mainly high-protein beans for tofu, soy milk and protein supplements--and having a hard time meeting the demand.

The soybean project reflects China's traditional emphasis on "demonstration" or "model" farms for disseminating new techniques. This model chooses certain villages or State farms to receive subsidized inputs and technical advice to adopt a technique wholesale. Rural officials are brought in to observe and replicate the technique in their home villages.

Six of the demonstration sites will be in the northeastern region near China's border with Siberia where the growing season is short--Bei'an and Nenjiang Cities and the Heihe State Farm Bureau in northern Heilongjiang, two sites in Inner Mongolia, and one in eastern Jilin Province. These sites appear to be intended to reverse the spread of corn production into these far northern regions by encouraging a return to soybean production and soybean-corn rotations. Technicians will distribute early-maturing soybean varieties to accommodate the short growing season. Other problems to be addressed are the lack of moisture, a fungus that causes white mold, root maggots, and harm to crops from herbicides. The demonstrations will feature crop rotations, soil preparation and deep ploughing in the fall, and fertilization based on soil tests.

A seventh site in Anhui Province will focus on problems related to double-cropping soybeans following winter wheat. In this region, farmers commonly burn wheat straw after the harvest, soybean seedlings are prone to problems due to poor soil structure, and fertilizer is spread on the top soil where few of the nutrients reach the soybeans. Root rot and grubs are caused by bacteria and eggs on wheat straw. This site will feature no-till planting of high-protein soybean varieties among wheat stubble, more efficient fertilizer application, pest prevention, and low-loss harvesting machinery.

The pilots aim to attain yields of 200 kg/mu (about a third more than typical yields). They hope to reduce chemical fertilizer and pesticide use by 10%, achieving cost savings of 15%. The entire process will be mechanized.

The budget is 200,000 yuan ($30,000) for each of twenty-eight 2000-mu fields (four at each of the seven sites). 100,000 yuan will cover production materials--seed, fertilizer, pesticide, land rent, and other costs. Another 35,000 yuan will cover the salaries of technicians and seasonal laborers. Other expenses include maintenance of equipment, testing of soil and soybeans, travel for project participants, and hiring of machinery services for planting, harvest, etc.

Each site's demonstration project will revolve around a local agricultural technology extension center, and experts from other institutes will be invited for consulting. County officials are assigned to develop working groups and coordinate all tasks to make sure they get done. The results are to be disseminated by radio, TV, newspapers, Internet, and other media.

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