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揚rotective Cultivation�Applied in North China on Trial
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It is just at the height of the "three summer months" when farmers of north China are busy with "three farming activities" of planting, harvesting and field management. In the Wuqing District of Tianjin, farmers enjoy more leisure time after finishing summer harvesting this year than they used to. The Ministry of Agriculture is popularizing a demonstration project called "protective cultivation" in the area, which is expected to simplify the "summer planting" and "field management" for farmers following "summer harvesting."

Hu Wei, general secretary of Tianjin Agricultural Machinery Association, said that Wuqing District, Baodi District and Ninghe County under the jurisdiction of Tianjin have been listed by the Ministry of Agriculture among the country's first group of demonstration areas to conduct the "Protective Cultivation Technological Demonstration Project." The central government is to invest 500,000 yuan (US$60,482.9) finance subsidies to each demonstration area for purchasing special machines for the protective cultivation. Each key operational zone will cover 10,000 mu (1 hectare = 15 mu).

Basic-level agricultural machinery service organs will encourage and support farmers to adopt protective cultivation technology via a unified organization, in order to effectively solve the problems of drought, soil erosion and sandstorms in dry farmland, as well as to promote the sustainable development of agriculture. Currently, those three areas have been actively carrying out the preparatory work for the implementation of the project.

The Ministry of Agriculture starts the overall protective cultivation demonstration project this year. The general plan consists of two stages with the emphasis on gradual reform of the traditional cultivation method in dry farmland in northern China. In the first stage (2002-05), two protective cultivation belts --- one is the protective cultivation belt enclosing Beijing and Tianjin, the other relates to the source of sandstorms --- will be built, with Beijing and Tianjin being the central area. In the second stage, it will take seven to 10 years to wholly conduct the protective cultivation in the north, northeast and northwest of China, contributing to increasing the agricultural benefits, farmers' income, prevention and control of sandstorm and the sustainable development of agriculture.

The Ministry of Agriculture has designated 38 counties as the first group of demonstration areas distributed across north Hebei, north Shanxi, west Liaoning, east Gansu, Beijing and Tianjin. By giving priority to the construction of key demonstration areas, gradually enlarging and merging these areas, and combining other ecosystem construction measures such as the reforesting of the cultivated land launched by the central government, the deteriorating situation of the agricultural ecosystem in north China's dry farmland is expected to improve.

What Is the Protective Cultivation?

According to agricultural experts, protective cultivation is a new cultivation method for dry farmland, mainly including four aspects of no-tillage sowing and fertilizing, deep plowing, controlling weeds and stalks and field management. The core of the cultivation method is no-tillage sowing and the main operation is done by machinery.

Protective cultivation originated in the United States in the 1930s. So far, the United States, Canada and Australia have almost fully adopted the idea supported by mechanization.

In north China, the cultivation method of turning over soil by turn-plow and laying bare the soil has lasted to this day. Due to deep plowing and raking intensively, the soil structure is ravaged, the content of the manure made from fermented night soil has diluted by water, and the bared surface soil intensifies the rampant sandstorms.

After nine years of successive experiments and research conducted in Shanxi Province, scientists from the Agriculture University of China has worked out a set of protective cultivation technological systems suited to Chinese conditions. The result shows that, compared with the traditional cultivation method, mechanized protective cultivation can lower surface runoff by 60 percent, decrease soil erosion by 80 percent, and reduce flying sands by 60 percent. Meanwhile, it can enrich the water content of soil in fallow seasons and increase the utilization ratio of manure of fermented night soil with water added, and thus shorten the production procedure and increase the output of crops.

(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, July 15, 2002)

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