China Agriculture University (CAU) in Beijing has a Precision Agriculture Laboratory that employs numerous professors and about 90 doctorate-level graduates, not just to learn from everything they can import from the “West”, but to leapfrog wherever they think useful for their country. Considering the economic and technological achievements of China the last decade, I would not bet against them succeeding in their ambitions.
Precision agriculture is a fact in China — not just in university research centers, but also “in the field.” The Provincial Authorities in Heilongjiang Province in Manchuria have embarked on a massive program to test precision agriculture “on the ground” in state farms (60,000 to 70,000 thousand acres!). Here are a few interesting specifics:
The board room in the HongXing farm machinery administration building displayed on a 8-foot by 12-foot projection screen TV the GIS of the farm’s fields, the data of previous and planned treatments, and in real time (through a telemetry link) the tractor cabin of the operator working the field.
The Daxijiang state farm has bought six sets (worth over $1 million each) with US made green and red pieces of the following equipment: tracked tractor with GPS and automatic steering, a huge conservation tillage implement, an air-seeder, a self-propelled liquid sprayer with automatic steering and variable rate capabilities, a combine harvester with automatic steering and a yield monitor. Each set is due to manage 10,000 acres, for a total of 60,000 acres. That farm used to have 150 pieces of Chinese made farm equipment to do the same job.
Farm managers also spoke about (but did not show us) thousands of acres of organic vegetables. A little probing revealed that a lot of produce is sold to a major US retailer. I could not ascertain whether this was for export, or for sales to the newly affluent city dwellers in Beijing and Shanghai. Probing a bit more, I learned Carrefour, the French competitor to that US retailer, pays 20% more for its organic vegetables, “but asks more information” and wants “performance guarantees.” We know French are picky eaters, and US consumers prefer “the lowest price,” but could it be that when one buys produce, one ultimately gets what one pays for. Just like for farm equipment, or baby toys for that matter.
Marc Vanacht is principal of AG Business Consultants in Clarkson Valley, MO. Share your comments with Marc via email at [email protected].