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All grain, No Pain as Farms Meet WTO Fracas

State-owned farms in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province - the country's largest base for producing grain for the open market - have been striving hard to reduce costs and improve competitiveness.

Lu Weifeng, head of Heilongjiang Provincial Administration of State Farms, said all farms had been promoting the use of machinery and enlarging the scale of land management.

Lu explained the efforts had been necessary to combat challenges in traditional farm production arising from China's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) late last year.

Heilongjiang, with the country's most fertile land, is home to 103 farms created in the 1950s. These farms now employ more than 300,000 people, and possess 2 million hectares of arable land.

Tian Hongqi, head of Hailin State Farm, said three quarters of the 6,700 hectares of arable land at his farm were being operated by 100 workers.

Zhu Guangyin, a farm worker who has tilled land at Tian's farm for about two decades, was granted the right to rent 133 hectares of land for farming this year - 33 hectares more than last year.

The farm worker spent more than 200,000 yuan (US$24,096) in purchasing new tractors and sowing machines at the beginning of the year.

"I had little education, but the scientific service team organized by the farm provides us training free of charge, so I quickly knew how to operate these machines," said Zhu.

More and more farm workers from Zhu's farm are following suit. Hailin Farm has decided to pump a huge amount of capital into the improvement of scientific services and the construction of water control and environmental protection facilities, as well as offering loans to farm workers for purchasing machines, said Tian.

Tian is confident that this year, producing cost of wheat, maize or soybeans on his farm will be lower than imported varieties.

China committed itself when joining the WTO to slashing its import tariffs for farm produce from 22 percent to 17.5 percent and also vowed to remove tariff barriers for farm produce.

Prices for domestically produced wheat, maize and soybeans in China are currently higher than those from abroad by 20 percent to 50 percent.

A fellow with the Research Center for Agricultural Policies under the Chinese Academy of Sciences also believed it was imperative to promote machines in farm work and encourage farm production on a larger scale in order to turn out enough farm produce at prices lower than imported items.

(Xinhua News Agency May 8, 2002)

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