Farmers reap fortune from smart farming on barren land
In the heart of the Loess Plateau in northwest China's Gansu Province, more than 200 greenhouses of various sizes dot the barren land covered with sand and gravel. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens and flowers grow inside the greenhouses in rows.
The greenhouses are part of a sprawling hydroponic farming base in Gansu's Lanzhou New Area, a national-level development zone in Lanzhou, the provincial capital. The base, which opened in 2018, is spread over more than 600 hectares. It is transforming the arid area into a major crop production hub with the help of advanced farming technologies.
"Despite severe water shortage, growing crops on the Loess Plateau has its advantages such as abundant sunlight and a significant temperature difference between day and night," said Hou Qilei, head of the production department of the agri-tech company that runs the base.
To make the most of these advantages, the base has deployed a number of innovative technologies and facilities, including cultivation without soil, automated temperature and humidity control, and integrated water and fertilization control, Hou said.
With sensors installed in the greenhouses, the automated temperature and humidity control system provides real-time data and keeps the indoor temperature and humidity within a preset range.
"The system will automatically open the roof of the greenhouse when the temperature is too high and activate the indoor heating system when it's too cold," Hou said.
Compared to traditional farming, a drip irrigation system helps reduce consumption of water and fertilizers by more than 50 percent, increasing the yield and saving human labor.
The greenhouses are also eco-friendly as they use substrates recycled from rotten leaves, straw and coconut fiber for soilless cultivation.
Thanks to these technologies, the base is able to produce more than 1,000 tonnes of vegetables and fruits and over 100 million stems of fresh cut flowers in a year, making agriculture a local pillar industry and helping local farmers make a fortune.
Zhang Jigang, a local farmer, earns a monthly salary of about 4,000 yuan (about 605 U.S. dollars) by growing cherry tomatoes in the base. The 50-year-old worked in nearby cities for 30 years before returning home to work at the facility.
"The land in our village was so barren that villagers had no choice but to leave the village to make a living," Zhang said. "Thanks to the base, I'm now able to work near home and make money in an easier way."
China will prioritize the development of agriculture and rural areas and fully advance rural vitalization, according to a communique released after the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in late October.
The country aims to modernize agriculture to promote quality, efficiency, and competitiveness, said the communique.
"The modernization of agriculture is key to promoting the development of China's rural areas and the well-being of Chinese farmers," Hou said, hoping that with the application of more smart farming technologies the base would benefit a larger number of local farmers.