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Agronomists Need Time Down on the Farm

Professor Xu Hao, a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member from Hebei Agricultural University, is worried about the younger generation of agronomists: they can plow through research materials to write papers, but they don't know the first thing about using a plow.


Xu spends much of his time traipsing through the fields. The farmers he meets complain about the younger scientists: "They speak foreign languages better than they do Chinese, and they know how to increase grain production but don't know what to do in the field." Xu said that it is essential to communicate with farmers using their language when discussing agronomy.


According to Xu, the inability to communicate is indicative of a larger problem. Today's young scientists and technicians spend all their time growing crops on computers, and are becoming increasingly distanced from the practical issues of farming.


Xu cited as a model the example of Yuan Longping, China's famous "Father of Hybrid Rice." Yuan, now 75 years old, still goes out to the fields twice a day all year round. He requires his students to work in the fields every day as well.


Most younger agronomists hire workers to do the menial labor necessary for their experiments. But, said Xu, the workers care little about the precision required to conduct a valid scientific experiment and may cut many corners in order to save themselves trouble. A scientist unfamiliar with farm labor has no clue that he is being played by the workers he hired and in the end, the data contained in his paper have no reliability.


"It's mainly the present management system for agronomists that is to blame," declared Xu.


Performance appraisals are based on papers filled with theory rather than warehouses filled with grain. The problem is similar to that of government officials, who may be rated solely on GDP growth without consideration for environment or social development.


To make matters worse, research funding cannot support long-term experiments in the field. A researcher who tries to conduct such an experiment will probably run out of money after completing a single segment, said Xu.


(China.org.cn by Wind Gu, March 13, 2005)

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