Lawmaker forges path ahead for agricultural modernization drive

Source: China Daily Updated: 2024-02-22

A lawmaker who transformed her father's farming operation in Jiangsu province with smart technologies seven years ago is now attempting to help more young people become next-generation farmers.

"It's not an easy job to engage in farming," said Wei Qiao, chairwoman of Jiangsu Runguo Agricultural Development Co, her father's brainchild, in Zhenjiang.

"You need to make huge investments with very slow financial return," she said, adding that burnishing the appeal of being a farmer has always been on her mind.

Elected last year as a deputy to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, Wei suggested that colleges should work closely with agricultural companies to train agronomists with hands-on knowledge of production who can help drive the country's agricultural modernization.

The 42-year-old also called for stronger backing for young farming talent, such as arranging tutors for them, providing training opportunities and giving them a lump sum subsidy for choosing to work in related jobs.

The suggestion received attention from the NPC's agricultural and rural affairs committee, and the central government.

In July, a group of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs arrived in Zhenjiang. They had a lengthy exchange with Wei and vowed to work with authorities in education, employment and the banking industry to realize her proposal.

"As a representative of new farmers, I regard it as my mission to help blaze a trail for promoting high-quality development of Chinese agriculture," she said.

In 2017, Wei, who has a master's degree in soil science, quit her job as an assistant researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research in Beijing.

She and her husband, a postdoctoral researcher at prestigious Peking University with a doctorate in agronomy, returned to her hometown, where Wei's father, Wei Yunfeng, ran a farm of some 1,700 hectares.

The couple took over the operation and experimented with technologies to bolster farming efficiency. With pesticide-spraying drones, a digital farmland monitoring system and other innovations, they helped reduce the labor required and increased the otherwise razor-thin profit margins from growing wheat, rice and rapeseed.

"A drone can help spray 20 hectares, and one person can operate two such drones at the same time," she said.

In 2022, Wei was recruited as a part-time professor at Jiangsu University in Zhenjiang, which is known for majors related to farming equipment and engineering.

As part of the program, she has brought many of her students to work in the fields, learning to operate drones and adapting their body clocks to the rhythm of real-life farming, which sometimes requires them to arrive in the field at 5 am. She also negotiated with the college to move major exams to slack winter seasons to allow for field studies in the busy harvest season in summer.

"It is pretty much like swimming," she said. "You have to jump into the water to learn."

Figures from the agriculture ministry show that some 12 million urban-educated people had returned to their rural roots to start businesses by the end of 2022, including those engaged in agriculture. The number is estimated to exceed 15 million by next year.

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