China Focus: Self-driving harvesters point to future of China's agriculture

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-16 16:54:53|Editor: Yurou
Video PlayerClose

BEIJING, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Ning Fengfeng onlys sleeps around five hours a day during this year's wheat harvest season.

The 65-year-old combine harvester driver has been busy reaping wheat for farmers in the city of Yuncheng in north China's Shanxi Province since late last month. His 148-horsepower tractor can reap one hectare of wheat in less than two hours.

By Wednesday, 18.5 million hectares of wheat, or over 80 percent of the total area nationwide, had been harvested. Of that, 95.5 percent were reaped by combine harvesters, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said.

Ning said he watched a video a few days ago featuring a self-driving harvester.

"People only need to press some buttons and all the work will be done. It is very much like a science fiction movie," he said. "I plan to buy one next year and then I can have a good sleep."

Self-driving harvesting is only one of the processes of agricultural production. China has set a target of gradually building automated farms, utilizing smart technologies to improve quality and efficiency and also reduce costs.

Earlier this month, China's first trial run of automated farming was conducted in Xinghua in the eastern province of Jiangsu, with the support of 12 firms and agencies.

More than 10 autonomous agricultural machines were involved in the whole production process from plowing the land and transplanting rice seedlings, to spreading fertilizer and pesticide and finally harvesting.

"We have a positioning system accurate to a centimeter, which enables us to transform various kinds of agricultural equipment into automated versions," said Yang Shouqi, the chief of the committee for the Communist Party of China at Jiangsu University.

The Telematics Industry Application Alliance, one of the members in the trial program, plans to conduct further farming experiments in Heilongjiang, Hebei and Chongqing.

"The automated farming experiment will last seven years," said Pang Chunlin, secretary general of the non-governmental organization. The agency has over 600 members from 12 countries and regions, including those in auto, electronics, software and internet sectors.

By the end of 2017, China had 240 million citizens aged over 60, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total population. By 2050, one in three Chinese will be over 60, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Against the backdrop of the aging population, automated farming practices are seen as essential in ensuring food security when there are fewer young laborers in the countryside.

Some tech and agricultural firms are also betting on the pioneering business.

Anhui State Farms Agribusiness Group is teaming with Anhui UnionTest Technology Co., Ltd. to conduct similar tests on farms in Xiaogang Village, a major cradle of China's rural reform, this autumn.

"Automated farming could boost efficiency and output. We are also optimistic to see a decline in costs," said Yu Shupeng, president of Anhui UnionTest.

"Automated farming represents the future of agriculture," said Dang Guoying, an agricultural expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "I am very optimistic about its prospects, but it is vital to first expand the agricultural production scales and reduce the technology costs."