Agricultural technologies contribute to tomato planting in Shouguang, “China’s Hometown of Vegetables”

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A Tomato Variety That Can Be Grown On Alkali Soil
A man shows a tomato variety that can be grown on alkali soil in a greenhouse in Nanmuqiao village, Shouguang, east China's Shandong province. (Photo courtesy of the media center of Shouguang)

By Wang Zhe, 

Inside the Liangze Agricultural Cooperative’s greenhouse in Geshang village, Shouguang, east China’s Shandong province, tomatoes in red, orange, yellow, and green are thriving.

“This year’s tomatoes are well-shaped and have an exquisite taste,” said farmer Han Yougong. He told People’s Daily that these tomatoes typically sell for over 5 yuan ($0.69) per jin (one jin equals 500 grams), bringing in an estimated income of 100,000 yuan per mu (one mu equals 0.07 hectares).

Taking the opportunity to build a demonstration base for agricultural whole chain standardization, Shouguang has vigorously modernized and standardized the tomato planting industry by employing advanced breeding techniques and intelligent technologies. 

It has developed an operational model, which covers tomato breeding, seedling cultivation, planting, and sales, to enhance the competitiveness of its tomato planting industry.

In 2023, Shouguang’s tomato output exceeded 500,000 tons, supplying both domestic and international markets. Currently, the city has independently cultivated 205 vegetable varieties, including 113 tomato varieties.

“This one has a rich, layered flavor,” said Han, as he plucked a tomato in the greenhouse. “The fruit is exquisite yet plump. It is crisp with a perfect balance between sweetness and sourness.”

Han attributed the good taste to the efforts made in breeding.

In a molecular breeding laboratory of the R&D center of Shouguang Vegetable Industry Holding Group, project leader Yu Caiyun was staring at test tubes, concentrating on a tomato DNA isolation experiment. 

“We are breeding new varieties of tomatoes with improved texture and enhanced disease resistance,” Yu said.

The R&D center of Shouguang Vegetable Industry Holding Group is equipped with a high-standard germplasm resource library and a molecular breeding laboratory. It also includes a tomato breeding research group that continuously focuses on tomato seed development and cultivates new varieties to assist farmers in selecting seeds and seedlings. Led by Yu, the group has successfully developed multiple new tomato varieties with improved taste, and their market share keeps expanding.

High-quality seeds are the foundation for the development of the tomato planting industry, and expansion of the industry relies on the improvement of the entire supply chain. In recent years, vegetable companies in Shouguang have been continuously improving the tomato industrial chain, aiming to enhance the value of their products.

In 2021, Shouguang Vegetable Industry Holding Group set up a food processing base, which includes a food processing workshop covering 60,000 square meters. Tomatoes freshly harvested from greenhouses are immediately transported to the workshop, where they undergo deep processing and are made into various products such as dried tomato. These products are then sold to downstream markets. In 2023, the tomato food processing output of Shouguang Vegetable Industry Holding Group exceeded 5 million yuan.

“Ventilation, shading, watering… you can operate almost everything with just one click,” said Xiao Airong, an employee of Shouguang Agricultural Industry Holding Group, while managing an intelligent greenhouse on her mobile phone.

After a few taps, fans in the greenhouse started running at high speed to ensure good air circulation, and skylights were opened to allow more sunlight to bathe the tomatoes. On a control panel, information was displayed in real time, including light intensity and carbon dioxide concentration.

In 2020, Shouguang Agricultural Industry Holding Group built intelligent greenhouses on a piece of land totaling 120 mu (8 hectares). Compared to traditional greenhouses, the land utilization rate of these new facilities increased by over 30 percent and production efficiency by 50 percent. As of now, more than 80 percent of the tomato greenhouses in Shouguang have installed intelligent equipment, turning into “green workshops.”

Intelligent technologies have not only made planting more convenient and efficient but have significantly improved efficiency in sales and quality check. 

Outside a greenhouse, automated guided vehicles carrying baskets of ripe tomatoes lined up in front of a fruit sorting line. On the sorting machine, tomatoes of different weights were graded and transported to multiple platforms, then packaged and sent to wholesale markets.

At the same time, Chen Haijian, an official with the agricultural product quality and safety supervision division of the Shouguang bureau of agriculture and rural affairs, was conducting sampling inspections. 

The samples would be sent to the city’s inspection and testing center, and the final test results would be uploaded to the integrated management service platform for vegetable supplies. Chen said that each batch of tomatoes can be traced back to its source on the platform via mobile phones.

The integrated management service platform for vegetable supplies was established in 2022, which includes 14 modules such as “vegetable seed industry” and “fruit and vegetable variety rights trading.” Information about the lots on which tomatoes are grown can also be accessed with a single click.

Thanks to the platform, more than 5,000 tomato greenhouses across the city have achieved intelligent supervision and management, said Wang Lixin, head of the Shouguang bureau of agriculture and rural affairs.

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