High-tech solutions to rural labor shortage

Xinhua
Agricultural drones are flying above, while driverless machines transplant rows of rice seedlings on a farm in northeast China.
Xinhua

Agricultural drones are flying above, while driverless machines transplant rows of rice seedlings on a farm in northeast China.

The work is carried out on an 11-hectare field in Hongwei Farm, Heilongjiang Province, one of China’s 10 selected grain plantation areas to test agricultural automation for the next-generation of farming.

Wang Fenglong, a supervisor at Hongwei Farm, said testing would be carried out on both plain and hilly land, for growing a variety of crops ranging from rice, wheat and vegetables, to cotton, fruit and tobacco.

He said operations could be carried out by a single person.

Sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the 10 designated farms in Jiangsu Province, Chongqing Municipality, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as well as Henan and Hainan provinces started the tests this year. Liu Xiaowei, an official with the Farming Mechanization Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said the ministries had grouped a number of research institutes to develop unmanned machines for high-precision farming.

The machines, such as self-driving tractors, transplanters, harvesters and fertilizer distributors, were developed with technology such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing and big data. Pang Chunlin, secretary general of the Telematics Industry Application Alliance, said the whole process of agricultural automation in the farm in Heilongjiang, undertaken by Beidahuang Group, was expected to last until 2025 to improve functions and solve problems in applications. Authorities expect the machines to be on the market in 2020.

Prior to the pilot, China has been promoting mechanical farming to release farmers from manual labor. By the end of 2018, China had a mechanization rate of 67 percent in crop cultivation and harvesting.

Many of China’s traditional grain-producing bases have encountered a rural labor shortage, as young generations of laborers opt for city jobs and remaining farmers age.

The proportion of people in Heilongjiang Province aged over 65 accounted for 12.9 percent of the population.

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