Intelligent technologies drive China's agriculture modernization
Unmanned transplanters and harvesters, intelligent irrigation control system and leaf age diagnose technique, these technologies are empowering Jiansanjiang, an important grain production base in Heilongjiang Province as a pioneer of China's intelligent agriculture.
The production base piloted six unmanned farms in 2020, with 875 unmanned transplanters covering about 17,600 hectares and unmanned harvesters harvesting 1,000 hectares of rice, soybean and corn.
Apart from the agricultural machinery, the production base also heralds a digital agriculture platform that gathers information on environmental factors, soil fertility and crop growth in different stages, offering scientific guidance for agricultural field management.
"Despite three typhoons, the per-unit yield is higher than last year, thanks to the application of new agricultural technologies," said Liu Linyi, a rice farmer from the production base.
China has seen a bumper harvest in 2020, with grain output up 0.9 percent year on year. Intelligent technologies have become part of the drive to modernize agriculture, liberate manpower and improve production efficiency.
As of September 2020, China had set up 18 unmanned pilot agriculture zones for 14 types of crops in 12 provinces and autonomous regions, covering more than 5,300 hectares of farmland.
"The development of intelligent agricultural machinery is gaining ground, and the unmanned farms will promote the transformation and upgrading of China's agriculture," said Luo Xiwen, a professor from South China Agricultural University.
China's sales of self-driving agricultural machinery equipment and systems reached more than 11,700 units in the first half of 2020, posting strong year-on-year growth of 213 percent.
Autonomous agricultural machinery could reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers by over 30 percent and increase work efficiency by over 50 percent, playing a very positive role in agricultural production.
In May 2020, Chinese authorities released a guideline to promote digital technologies in rural areas as part of their efforts to advance agricultural and rural modernization.
The guideline, jointly issued by four government departments including the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, encouraged the use of technologies like big data, artificial intelligence, remote intelligent agricultural machinery and agricultural drones in rural areas.
With some 76,667 hectares of cotton fields, Yuli County is a cotton hub in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Agricultural drones are widely used to spray defoliants in the harvesting season to facilitate cotton collection.
Official data showed that Xinjiang had over 5,000 agricultural drones powered by China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) by July, serving over 1.3 million hectares of fields.
"The orders for our agricultural drones have been growing in recent years," said Zheng Tao from XAG, a Guangzhou-headquartered agriculture technology startup which set up an operation center in Yuli to serve Xinjiang customers.
The company has also developed a system to monitor and manage cotton growing in real-time. "Cotton fields in Yuli are now pilot zones for smart agriculture," said Zheng.
Peng Bin, also from XAG, said the company has been committed to fostering an ecosystem for intelligent agriculture, hoping to lower the consumption of water and pesticides and reduce pollution through high-tech agricultural equipment.
China's self-developed BDS has also contributed to the modernization of agriculture. Roughly 45,000 sets of BDS-based automatic driving agricultural machinery are working nationwide, cutting labor costs by 50 percent.
Greatly enhancing operation management efficiency, the BDS-based machinery monitoring platforms and Internet of Things platforms are serving for more than 400,000 units and sets of agricultural machinery.
Zhang Taolin, vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs said at a recent forum that in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), China will strengthen original innovation and develop key agricultural technologies.
China will foster the application of technologies and build sci-tech innovation centers for modern agricultural industries, Zhang said.