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Farmers mastering new skills to revitalize Shanxi agriculture

Source: Time: 14 04,2022

A farmer operates a farming machine to weed an orchard in Shanxi province. Li Lianjun/For China Daily

Farmers work in a greenhouse farm in the Shanxi Agricultural Valley. The smart farm that covers 4,000 square meters is also a training site of the farmers’vocational school in Taigu county. Li Quanhong/For China Daily


Skills training is crucial to agricultural modernization and rural revitalization, said farmers and rural officials in Shanxi province.

Taigu, a county in the central Shanxi city of Jinzhong, is one of the pioneers of agricultural modernization in the province. It is home to the Shanxi Agricultural Valley, a pilot industrial base for modernizing the whole agricultural value chain, from research and development, seedling cultivation, farming, agricultural product processing and sales, through the use of modern machinery, technologies and operations.

While modern machinery and technologies can be readily put in place, local officials said farmers who can skillfully use them are more important in the agricultural modernization process.

That's why Taigu launched a farmers' vocational school four years ago. The school's curriculum covers 64 subjects across 17 categories, aiming to create high-quality farmers.

The school's operations are not limited to a certain campus. Farmers throughout the county can receive training at sites near to their homes.

A vegetable farm in the village of Rencun in Taigu is one such training site. About 60 local farmers, for instance, took part in a five-day training class in August last year for growing novel crops like colorful chili.

Jia Jin'er, a local farmer, was one of the trainees. She said most of the trainees are farmers experienced in growing vegetables in greenhouses.

"We mainly grow vegetables that can be commonly seen on dining tables," Jia said, adding that their prices are much lower than those novel varieties like the colorful chili.

"When we heard that there would be an opportunity to learn to grow these novel varieties, we signed up for the training class," she said. "Five days is enough for us to master the basics and our skills can be further enhanced as some teachers will stay with us to offer follow-up services."

A strawberry greenhouse farm in the Shanxi Agricultural Valley is another site for training.

Farmers who graduated from the training classes say they are happy to have mastered modern methods.

One of the farmers who had just finished training said he was amazed by the combination of beekeeping and strawberry farming in greenhouses.

"We are told that pollination is crucial for growing berries and bees are among the best pollinating media," the farmer said. "Beekeeping in greenhouses can boost strawberry output and honey as a byproduct can also add to revenue."

In Shanxi, some frequent students have become experts. They are now using their expertise and know-how to train their fellow farmers.

This is the case with Wu Zhongding, head of an apple farming cooperative in the county of Linyi in Yuncheng city.

He compiled a 50,000-word guidebook for apple farming based on the notes he took at various training classes. He later used the new techniques and technologies to upgrade the farms in his cooperative and has trained hundreds of local farmers.

Training farmers to skillfully operate various machines is another important part of the agricultural modernization of Shanxi.

Li Yaping, a farmer in Qiaotou village in Ruicheng county, for instance, can use multiple farming machines thanks to various training sessions.

On a warm spring day in March, Li drove a tractor to water his wheat farm. "This is not a conventional tractor," Li said. "It can be turned into a multipurpose farming machine with modifications."

Li used the tractor as a spraying machine after he mounted a water tank and a spray nozzle mast onto it. He said it can also be turned into a machine for plowing or harvesting.

"We used flood irrigation in the past, which consumed a lot of water," the farmer said. "Now we are taught to use the more economical way of spray irrigation with a modified tractor."

He estimated spray irrigation can save more than 600 yuan ($95) for each hectare of land compared with flood irrigation.

Shanxi has placed equal emphasis on training farmers to become familiar with e-commerce, which is playing an increasingly important role in the sale of agricultural products.

Pingshun in the city of Changzhi is one of the pilot counties in Shanxi in rural e-commerce. In 2019, the county began to hire e-commerce experts to train its farmers.

More than 3,500 rural residents took part in various training courses that year. As a result, the number of online stores selling farm produce increased from about 30 to nearly 400 that year.

Liu Zhijie, head of the Shanxi Department of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, said the training for farmers features multiple forms and various links of the value chain.

"While training farmers to master modern farming skills, we also highlight nurturing rural business leaders, including entrepreneurs and operators of rural cooperatives and modern farms," Liu said. "We are fostering a strong force for rural governance as well."

According to the department, Shanxi has trained more than 750,000 farmers since 2014 and awarded them various skill certificates. Training programs cover more than 20 subjects including crop and vegetable farming, aquaculture, husbandry, farming machine operation and e-commerce.

Farmers with certificates are being called a new type of professional farmer in Shanxi, setting a role model for many regions in China to learn from, according to the department.

Han Linfang contributed to this story.

By Yuan Shenggao