China's wheat harvest is up against Covid lockdowns as officials also cope with burning fields in a "wheat battle."
As the summer harvest swung into high gear in late May, local officials in wheat-growing provinces issued directives that the "summer grain battle" must be won. Urgent orders to both uphold virus-prevention and ensure a good harvest reveal the dilemma Chinese officials face: upholding "zero covid" while also ensuring a big wheat crop.
Zero-covid and food security objectives are in conflict because China's wheat harvest relies on a massive movement of people. Many rural migrants working in cities are unable to return to their villages to harvest and sell their crops due to covid lockdowns, and those who do return must meet strict requirements for registration and prove they are covid-negative. Meanwhile, constant covid-testing must be carried out on crews of wheat-harvesters traveling from village to village to cut the wheat. The marketing of the crop relies on itinerant traders and truck drivers who comb the countryside to buy up wheat at the edge of fields or from farmers' homes, transport it to granaries and shovel it into bags.
|"Volunteers" harvest wheat in Jiangsu Province's Xuzhou City. Jiangsu Net.|
Another part of the "wheat battle" is a crackdown on burning wheat fields. Farmers like to burn the straw left in their fields after harvesting summer crops so they can immediately plant a second crop to be harvested in the fall, usually corn. The practice was banned as an air pollution control measure about ten years ago, but it may have had a resurgence this year due to covid controls that also crimp the process of gathering up, transporting and processing the wheat straw. Most news articles mention bans on field burning as part of this year's wheat harvest campaign.
On May 15, officials in Henan Province's Wangzhuangzai Town were ordered to conscientiously prepare for the "three summers" harvest (summer-harvested wheat, rapeseed, early rice) while also building a solid line of defense against the epidemic. The work program involves registering and recording all the members of itinerant wheat-harvesting crews and their machinery who must report to local authorities a day before entering a village. The town currently has 62 harvesters and 85 crew members registered. Officials are supposed to tally up wheat fields and workers, identify labor shortages, and send out "volunteers" to help with harvest and sale of wheat to address migrants' difficulties. Officials are ordered to publicize virus prevention and distribute notices and leaflets about bans on burning wheat fields. Officials who don't take their responsibility seriously will be penalized.
In Gulou District of northern Jiangsu Province's Xuzhou City, community officials formed supervision teams to compile statistics on wheat fields and local farm machinery. They assigned teams to be responsible for specific tracts of land. Communist party members reportedly were formed into teams to help harvest the wheat of families who could not return to their fields. Officials are ordered to ensure that covid-prevention work is performed on interregional wheat-harvesting crews. The Gulou District strictly forbids the destruction of wheat fields and forbids harvesting wheat for silage. Officials are deploying fire-fighting equipment to put out fires in wheat fields. As rainy weather arrived, harvesting equipment was having difficulty accessing fields.
|Working on a wheat-harvesting machine. Source: Minquan County Government.|
The wheat harvest program in Henan Province's Qi County tries to boost the image of its pesky covid-prevention workers by reporting that medical staff braved the hot sun to deliver bottled water, towels, essential oils, toilet water (?), watermelon, and face masks to harvester operators and workers in fields. The medical workers explained fire safety to agricultural machinery operators, reminding them to work without smoke or fire.
Meanwhile, a youtube video shows an official in Henan ordering farmers to leave their fields while waving a cigarette as he yells, pacing through a field of flammable wheat straw about 20 feet from an unharvested stand of wheat.
Henan Province's Hebi City was hit hard by flooding last summer and fall. In Hebi's Jun County officials are also undertaking the "wheat battle" by ensuring wheat is harvested and banning the burning of fields in a 300,000-mu model wheat-farming tract. This article tacitly admits that last year's serious flooding was due to busted dikes: families in the area have been removed to temporary settlements while destroyed dikes and canals are being repaired. Families and grain traders in the area are being warned not to store their grain in their houses in order to avoid risk of floods ruining the grain. The dike-restoration project is targeted for completion in June and families are to be returned to their homes by October (presumably in time to plant next year's winter wheat crop).