China’s smart farming revives traditional rice brand

Xiaozhan rice paddy field in Tianjin Municipality, North China. /Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Tianjin Municipality

Xiaozhan rice paddy field in Tianjin Municipality, North China. /Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Tianjin Municipality

With the help of smart farming, Xiaozhan Rice, a traditional rice brand in Tianjin, North China, has been revived in recent years.

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

“We use satellites, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and portable devices to help with this,” Xu told CGTN. “It is not uncommon to develop a single device, but it is difficult to combine multiple devices in one device to serve farmers at the lowest cost and best efficiency.”

Xu said remote sensing images with high spatial and temporal resolution with the help of China’s Gaofen satellites have made it possible to monitor the crop growth process.

The maps of Xiaozhan Rice are derived from Gaofen satellite images from 2019 to 2021.  /NERCITA

The maps of Xiaozhan Rice are derived from Gaofen satellite images from 2019 to 2021. /NERCITA

The maps of Xiaozhan Rice are derived from Gaofen satellite images from 2019 to 2021. /NERCITA

Aerial UAVs help monitor and assess seedling status, nutritional status, and survival in rice. “UAV-based technology equipped with high-resolution multispectral cameras and laser radar can help save 5-12 percent of nitrogen fertilizers,” Xu said.

Xu said his team is developing a portable tool to help monitor smaller farms. Key crop growth indicators such as leaf area index, fractional vegetation cover and chlorophyll content can be measured with the device. This could help recommend nitrogen fertilizer rates and help farmers predict yields, Xu said.

A portable tool for monitoring crop health (top three images), its mode of operation, a recipe map for fertilization and a map for predicting yield (bottom three images).  /NERCITA

A portable tool for monitoring crop health (top three images), its mode of operation, a recipe map for fertilization and a map for predicting yield (bottom three images). /NERCITA

A portable tool for monitoring crop health (top three images), its mode of operation, a recipe map for fertilization and a map for predicting yield (bottom three images). /NERCITA

Using these technologies, two demonstration farms with a total area of ​​5,500 mu (about 367 hectares) have been established. They also offered technical training to 150 workers to provide better service to farmers.

A dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart farming.  /NERCITA

A dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart farming. /NERCITA

A dynamic monitoring system based on big data for smart farming. /NERCITA

The traditional rice brand is getting “rejuvenated”

Xiaozhan Rice is an old brand. The rice originated from Xiaozhan Township in Jinnan District, Tianjin. The town was a place of strategic importance and an army was stationed there during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The city’s military training made it famous, and it was the only Chinese city marked on maps published in Europe and the United States in the late 19th century. According to Xinhua News Agency, he created the country’s first new type of army based on a modern military system, with soldiers equipped with modern weapons and equipment.

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

Since 2018, Tianjin has launched a campaign with methods including researching digital technology and injecting funds into rice cultivation.

In addition, efforts were made for new varieties of rice. Several high-yielding, high-quality cultivars have been bred, such as Jinyuan U99, Jindao 919, and Jinchuan No.1, which are distinguished by traits such as resistance to diseases and pests, drought, and salinity.

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality, North China.  /Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Tianjin Municipality

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality, North China. /Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Tianjin Municipality

Xiaozhan Rice in Tianjin Municipality, North China. /Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Tianjin Municipality

Farmers also used their rice paddies to raise crabs, shrimps and fish, the crabs fertilized the paddy soil and the larvae in the field provided green food for the crabs.

According to the Tianjin Municipal Committee of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the area under rice cultivation has now increased by more than 1 million mu (about 66,700 hectares) for two consecutive years, from 300,000 mu (20,000 hectares) in 2016.

“So far, we have established 100,000 mu (6,670 hectares) of standardized demonstration areas for growing and cultivating rice seedlings,” said Wang Haiyuan, an official from the committee’s Plantation Management Office.

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

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