By He Yong, Shen Zhilin
“The rice seedlings are growing well. I can definitely see a good harvest if the weather is fair in the coming days,” said Wu Hongkui, a villager in central China’s Hunan province, while checking on the rice seedlings in his fields in mid-June.
Although he owns seven to eight mu (about 5 hectares) of paddy fields, Wu hasn’t worked in the fields himself this year.
“I entrusted plowing, seedling raising, and transplanting I needed to do to a specialized cooperative for crop planting in a nearby village, and I didn’t take part in any of these tasks,” said Wu, who lives in Nandiguai village, Anxiang county, Changde city of Hunan province.
The cooperative Wu was talking about mainly provides local grain-growing households with commercial services covering the whole process of grain production, including planting, drying, storage, processing and sale.
“We have taken care of the farm work in over 10,000 mu (666.67 hectares) of farmland for local farmers, or provided services for them for 100,000 times if calculated according to the steps and links of the farming process,” said Li Zhihui, a manager of the cooperative.
The services in agricultural production have freed small-scale farmers like Wu from laborious farm work.
“Now I only need to go to the fields once a while to see whether the crops get enough water and fertilizer. With the time saved in farming, I also take part in the installation and maintenance of water and electricity facilities as another source of income,” Wu said.
Last year, after leaving enough grain for his family’s needs, Wu sold the rest of the harvested rice, which brought him an income of 5,000 yuan ($746.37) to 6,000 ($895.64) yuan.
The specialized services provided by such agricultural cooperatives have not only helped smallholder farmers save time and energy, but enabled medium- and large-scale farmers to use their land efficiently.
Ma Zhongren, a farmer who runs a family farm in Anfeng township, Anxiang county, has been greatly relieved of the farm work because of the commercial services provided by a specialized cooperative.
Ma has acquired the use rights of over 600 mu (40 hectares) of land to develop rice-shrimp farming. The cooperative has helped him with seedling raising and transplanting, effectively improving the land-use value of Ma’s family farm.
“After entrusting the cooperative with the preliminary farm work, I know the sowing of my autumn grain will not be delayed even if the harvest season of my shrimp is not started until the end of June,” Ma said.
Various providers of such services are helping facilitate the implementation of a series of measures across Hunan. The measures aim at promoting the modernization of grain production and helping grain producers reduce costs and increase production and efficiency, including the promotion of high-quality rice seeds, advanced agricultural machinery, and agricultural technologies.
At a breeding base of the cooperative that provides commercial services for Ma, high-quality rice seeds that have been soaked in water for speeding up germination are continuously added to a seeder with positioning function, and then neatly spread on paper and rolled up.
This is a new technology for mechanized rice seedling cultivation and transplanting jointly developed by the cooperative, the Hunan Agricultural University and other institutions.
Compared with the traditional way of sowing and seedling raising, it can save 40 percent to 50 percent of the seeds, which cuts the seed cost by 50 to 60 yuan per mu for farmers, Li pointed out.
“We have purchased five agricultural drones to provide plant protection services for nearly 20,000 mu (1333.33 hectares) of farmland of local farmers,” said Liang Manlyu, manager of an agricultural machinery cooperative in Leiyang city, Hunan.
Leiyang has established and encouraged agricultural machinery technology service teams to provide services in the fields, and worked with 21 agricultural machinery cooperatives to advance the implementation of projects related to relevant subsidies. The county-level city has been listed among pilot counties for innovative commercial agricultural services in China.
At present, the comprehensive mechanization level of rice cultivation and harvesting has reached 81.8 percent in the city.
Hunan is carrying out county-wide pilot projects of commercial agricultural services in 24 regions.
“We have carefully scheduled commercial agricultural services for summer harvesting, sowing and management to boost increase in grain output and production efficiency,” said an official with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Hunan Province.
A total of 43,000 providers of commercial agricultural services have participated in or plan to participate in the process, with the total area of paddy fields expected to benefit from the services exceeding 29.6 million mu (about 2 million hectares), according to the official.