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International Perspective: China – Rapidly Modernizing Their Agriculture Industry

by Oct 27, 2011International Perspectives

For several years now, Ag Leader has been selling precision farming products into China.  Over the years the interest in precision farming has increased as China modernizes their farming practices and imports more western made farm equipment.  China has been forced to rapidly update their farming practices and equipment for two reasons: 1) the growing demand for food from a rising population (and a population with more disposable income) and 2) a labor shortage. It is hard to believe that the most populous country on earth has a labor shortage, but it is true when it comes to agriculture.  More and more of the Chinese population are leaving the rural areas for the big city in search of better jobs.  As this population migration happens, it leaves a shortage of qualified individuals who want to work in the agricultural industry.  The labor shortage, along with the growing population, is forcing Chinese farming operations to improve efficiency and maximize food production.  Using larger western made equipment and precision farming products has helped this modernization. While China grows a lot of the same crops as we do here in North America, the way their farms are set up is quite different.  I have classified the farms into four different types of  operations: 1) the family farm, 2) corporate farms, 3) state farms and 4) military farms.

Chinese tractor.

The family farm is not really a family farm at all, but more of a large garden.  Since China is a Communist country the farmers don’t actually own the land they farm, but are given rights to farm a small plot of ground.  Each farmer can grow what they like on their plot of land for their own consumption or to sell.  When driving down the road you will see a large field with multiple crops growing in it.  There will be six to eight rows of corn and then about six rows of cabbage followed by a small batch of soybeans and then possibly some tobacco.  Each crop is a different farmer’s plot of land that they are farming.  It is strange to see this type of farming as it is not the most efficient use of land, especially for a country with so many people to feed.

The corporate farm is a step up from the family farm.  Under this type of operation, an individual or a corporate entity rents the small patches of land from the local farmers who don’t want to farm and they build up a larger, more efficient farming operation.  These farms can range in size from 1000 hectares to 20,000 hectares (~2470 – 49,400 acres) depending on the area they are located in.  The corporate farms are becoming more popular as the population migration to the city continues and the locals become less interested in farming their small plot of ground.

The state farms are large government-owned farms of 100,000 hectares (~247,000 acres) or more that are run like a large corporate farm here in North America, but on a bigger scale than we are used to seeing.  The farm consists of a general manager, farm managers, agronomists, machine operators, mechanics and laborers.  These farms have lots of equipment of all sizes; several hundred small rice planters from Japan, one hundred rice combines from China, seventy-five high horsepower tractors from the U.S., thirty self-propelled sprayers from the U.S., etc.  Even though these farms are owned and run by a Communist government, they are expected to turn a profit.

Japanese Rice Planters.


Chinese Rice Combine.Working on installation.

Military farms are very similar in size and operation to the state farms except that they are all staffed with soldiers, and the majority of the food is grown to feed the military.  Generals are in charge of the farm and the different ranks of soldiers have different jobs on the farm. Back in September, Nick Ohrtman and I traveled to China with Heath Kennemer from Hagie to install a Paradyme system on a Hagie sprayer equipped with DirectCommand.  The sprayer and the precision farming equipment were purchased by state farm #853 as part of their efforts to modernize their operation.  Everything went well and the farm manager is looking forward to spraying season with the ParaDyme and DirectCommand features.  It was very interesting to visit the farm and see the reaction of the locals to such a big piece of machinery with all the technology on it.  As China continues to face the challenge of producing enough food for its booming population, precision farming and its benefits will continue to play an important role in their farming operations.

Picture of equipment storage building on farm #853.

If you look closely at the picture below of the Hagie sprayer you will notice that there are red ribbons tied to the side mirrors of the sprayer.  This is a common practice in China when a new piece of equipment or a car is purchased.  The Chinese believe it brings them good luck and that the machine or car will be protected from accidents and breakdowns.