Chinese smart agriculture revives traditional rice brand

Xiaozhan Rice Field in Tianjin Municipality, northern China. /Tianjin Municipal Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee

Xiaozhan Rice Field in Tianjin Municipality, northern China. /Tianjin Municipal Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee

Thanks to smart farming, the traditional rice brand, Xiaozhan Rice, in Tianjin, northern China, has been revived in recent years.

According to Xu Xingang, principal investigator of a smart agriculture project and researcher of the National Engineering Research Center for Information Technology in Agriculture (NERCITA), researchers have been exploring ways to integrate multiple devices into a single platform to help farmers monitor crop growth and make decisions.

“We use satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and handheld devices to achieve this,” Xu told CGTN. “The development of a single device is not uncommon, it is difficult to combine several devices into one to serve farmers with the lowest cost and the best efficiency.”

Xu said that with the help of China’s Gaofen satellites, high spatial and temporal resolution remote sensing images have been used to monitor the growing process of crops.

Maps by Xiaozhan Rice derived from satellite images of Gaofen from 2019 to 2021. /NERCITA

Maps by Xiaozhan Rice derived from satellite images of Gaofen from 2019 to 2021. /NERCITA

Maps by Xiaozhan Rice derived from satellite images of Gaofen from 2019 to 2021. /NERCITA

Flying in the sky, UAVs help monitor and assess the condition of seedlings, nutritional status and lodging in rice. “Equipped with high-resolution multi-spectral cameras and laser radar, drone-based technology can help save 5-12% nitrogen fertilizer,” Xu said.

Xu said his team had also developed a portable instrument to help monitor small farms. Key crop growth indicators, such as leaf area index, fractional ground cover and chlorophyll content, can be measured with the device. It can help recommend the amount of nitrogen fertilizer and forecast the yield for farmers, Xu said.

The portable instrument to monitor crop health (the top three images), how it works, a prescription map for fertilization, and a map to predict yield (the bottom three images).  /NERCITY

The portable instrument to monitor crop health (the top three images), how it works, a prescription map for fertilization, and a map to predict yield (the bottom three images). /NERCITY

The portable instrument to monitor crop health (the top three images), how it works, a prescription map for fertilization, and a map to predict yield (the bottom three images). /NERCITY

Using these technologies, two demonstration farms have been established, with a total of 5500 mu (about 367 hectares). They also provided technical training to 150 people to better serve farmers.

Dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart agriculture.  /NERCITY

Dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart agriculture. /NERCITY

Dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart agriculture. /NERCITY

The traditional rice brand is getting “rejuvenated”

Xiaozhan Rice is an old brand. The rice came from Xiaozhan Town in Jinnan District, Tianjin. The city had been a place of strategic importance and an army was stationed there at the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

Troop training in the city made the place famous, and it was the only Chinese city shown on maps published in Europe and the United States in the late 19th century. He created the country’s first new-style army based on a modern military system, with soldiers equipped with modern weapons and equipment, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency.

Xiaozhan Rice was bred based on the original rice and other high-quality rice genes with the increase in the training of troops in the city. Nowadays, farming Xiaozhan rice uses a combination of traditional farming techniques and new technologies.

Since 2018, Tianjin has launched a campaign with methods including exploring digital technology in planting and injecting funds into rice planting.

Also, efforts have been made for new varieties of rice. Several high-yielding and high-quality varieties were cultivated, such as Jinyuan U99, Jindao 919 and Jinchuan No.1, which were distinguished by characteristics such as disease and pest resistance, drought and salinization.

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality in northern China.  /Tianjin Municipal Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality in northern China. /Tianjin Municipal Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality in northern China. /Tianjin Municipal Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee

Farmers also used their paddy fields to raise crabs, shrimps and fish, with the crabs fertilizing the soil of the paddy fields and the larvae in the field providing green food for the crabs.

At present, the rice planting area has increased from over 300,000 mu (20,000 hectares) in 2016 to over one million mu (about 66,700 hectares) for two consecutive years, according to the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Tianjin Municipality.

“Up to now, we have established 100,000 mu (6,670 hectares) standardized demonstration areas for the production and cultivation of rice seedlings,” said Wang Haiyuan, an official with the plantation administration office of the committee.

“Using standardized production technology, the yield per mu of rice increased by more than 10%, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer was reduced by more than 20%, and the amount of pesticides was reduced by more than 30% “Wang told CGTN.

About Keneth T. Graves

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