Drones over Bei­dahuang

The us­age of drones in crop pro­tec­tion is grow­ing rapidly in China and may at­tract more young peo­ple to fur­ther ex­plore in­tel­li­gent agri­cul­ture.

China Pictorial (English) - - FRONT PAGE - Text by Li Zhuoxi

Bei­dahuang (lit­er­ally, “Great North­ern Wilder­ness”) is a vast re­gion of mostly farm­land in China’s north­east­ern Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. Back in the 1950s, tens of thou­sands of re­tired sol­diers, ed­u­cated youths and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies worked hard there to in­tro­duce agri­cul­ture to the wild land. To­day, Bei­dahuang has be­come China’s most modern and pro­duc­tive grain pro­duc­tion base. But like other ru­ral ar­eas in the coun­try, Bei­dahuang faces a short­age of la­bor.

In re­cent years, how­ever, a new pro­fes­sion in­volv­ing drone-driven crop pro­tec­tion has emerged, which has greatly re­lieved the sit­u­a­tion and cul­ti­vated a new gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese farm­ers. Drone-aided Har­vest

Thanks to China’s re­form and open­ing up, the coun­try ur­ban­ized fast, which re­sulted in a loss of de­mo­graphic div­i­dends in ru­ral ar­eas. Stan­dard wages to hire farm help have more than dou­bled in re­cent years. Even so, ru­ral ar­eas still lack enough hands dur­ing har­vest sea­son. Three years ago, crop pro­tec­tion drones car­ry­ing au­to­matic spray­ing ma­chines be­gan to fly over the fields of Bei­dahuang.

Zhao Liqing was born into a farmer’s fam­ily in Bao­qing County, Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. When he was young, he was hired by a com­pany in town. Later, a se­ries of pref­er­en­tial poli­cies is­sued by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment in­spired him to leave his job to be­come a pro­fes­sional farmer. Cur­rently, he man­ages 400 mu (26.67 hectares) of rice fields.

Just two years ago, spray­ing pes­ti­cides re­quired con­sid­er­able man­power. To serve all of his rice fields, Zhao had to hire seven or eight agri­cul­tural work­ers for about a week. And he had to pay 100 yuan for each em­ployee per day. More­over, it was hard to re­cruit peo­ple to do the job. If the op­ti­mal date was missed, his yield and har­vest qual­ity would be tremen­dously im­pacted. For­tu­nately, crop pro­tec­tion drones can now help him out. “I called a com­pany and placed an or­der,” says Zhao. “And then two drones did all the work. The whole process took just half a day. And each mu (0.07 hectares) costed just six yuan. I could never have imag­ined this.”

“Sow­ing seeds and har­vest­ing rice have also been mech­a­nized,” Zhao adds. “With­out such ma­chines, I could never farm such a large area.” Agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies help him earn a net in­come of 800,000 yuan per year. Cool Agri­cul­ture

Un­der the scorch­ing sun, 26-year-old Zhang Bo sat leisurely on a ridge with a re­mote con­trol, set­ting flight pa­ram­e­ters. Af­ter a while, a drone rose up over the field to spray pes­ti­cides along a de­fault route.

Zhang does this ev­ery day as a pro­fes­sional drone op­er­a­tor. Be­fore 2017 when he lived in Tian­jin City, he be­came a Weibo (China’s ver­sion of Twit­ter) celebrity by live stream­ing con­tent about video games. His fam­ily was sell­ing agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery and farm im­ple­ments in Suibin County, Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. In 2017, his fa­ther started ex­plor­ing the idea of pur­chas­ing a drone to use for farm­ing, so Zhang agreed to re­turn home to learn crop pro­tec­tion tech­nol­ogy us­ing drones. The op­er­a­tion of crop pro­tec­tion drones is not com­pli­cated, so it came easy for the video game player.

“Ac­tu­ally, my for­mer job earned more money and was more com­fort­able than farm­ing,” ad­mits Zhang. “But this is more fun.” Af­ter real­iz­ing how easy the formerly toil­some task of plant­ing has be­come, he be­lieves that new tech­nol­ogy is

go­ing to change the game fur­ther and that agri­cul­ture will soon be­come a promis­ing and “cool” in­dus­try.

Not far from Zhang in Tongjiang County, Li Dan is an­other drone op­er­a­tor. She used to man­age a ho­tel in Harbin, cap­i­tal of Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. Peo­ple in her fam­ily in­tro­duced her to the new oc­cu­pa­tion. She also be­lieves the realm has a bright fu­ture, so she learned the tech­nol­ogy and bought some equip­ment. Dur­ing peak sea­son, Li works from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m., spray­ing pes­ti­cides for 700 mu (46.67 hectares) of farm­land ev­ery day on av­er­age. De­spite ex­haust­ing and in­tense work­ing con­di­tions, the job ob is ful­fill­ing as well as eco­nom­i­cally ly re­ward­ing. Her fam­ily now man­ages ges 300 mu (20 hectares) of farm­land, d, and Li in­tends to lease more fields ds next year.

“I plan to go back to school to learn more agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies,” Li adds. “I want to be a ‘new’ w’

farmer dif­fer­ent from my fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion.”

Key to In­tel­li­gent Agri­cul­ture

A say­ing in Bei­dahuang goes: “Those born in the 1970s don’t want to farm, those from the 1980s can­not farm and those of the 1990s are re­luc­tant to even talk about farm­ing.” Sim­i­lar phe­nom­ena have oc­curred in China’s other ru­ral ar­eas. Most farm­ers do not want their chil­dren to be farm­ers. If cur­rent trends con­tinue, the coun­try will have in­suf­fi­cient farm­ing la­bor in 10 years. But the ap­pli­ca­tion of drone tech­nol­ogy could pos­si­bly pro­vide a so­lu­tion to the is­sue.

Grow­ing up in an era of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, peo­ple born af­ter the 1980s have a nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion to more tightly em­brace modern tech­nol­ogy like drones. Ad­di­tion­ally, with strong sen­si­tiv­ity about in­tel­li­gent agri­cul­ture and big data, some young drone op­er­a­tors are set­ting up com­pre­hen­sive ser­vice plat­forms for farm­ers fea­tur­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies, which earn them im­pres­sive in­comes while re­main­ing at­trac­tive to young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar.

Born in 1993, Wang Feng re­turned to his home­town in Hei­longjiang Prov­ince af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege to take over his fa­ther’s busi­ness of sell­ing agri­cul­tural sup­plies. Due to his pas­sion for drones, Wang set up a flight team to pro­vide crop pro­tec­tion ser­vices. Based on big data, his team pro­vides one-pack­age ser­vice in­clud­ing plow­ing, seed­ing, man­ag­ing, har­vest­ing and stor­ing. Most of his 40 em­ploy­ees hail from lo­cal vil­lages and are in their twen­ties or thir­ties.

“The pes­ti­cides we use are eco-friendly and pol­lu­tion-free,” de­clares Wang. “Drones can spray pes­ti­cides with pre­ci­sion, which pre­vents pes­ti­cide overuse and cuts us­age in half while sav­ing over 90 per­cent of wa­ter. This can greatly cut the cost of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. We hope we can pro­vide bet­ter ser­vice to our fel­low farm­ers, re­lieve their bur­den and bet­ter pro­tect the black soil with ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy.”

In 2016, more than 6,000 drones were used for crop pro­tec­tion in China and by 2017, the num­ber ex­ceeded 10,000. The same year, the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, the Min­istry of Fi­nance and the Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China jointly de­clared that they would pro­vide sub­si­dies for crop pro­tec­tion drone op­er­a­tion in six pilot prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. It is ex­pected that in the near fu­ture, the us­age of drones in crop pro­tec­tion will grow rapidly. And what’s more im­por­tant is that the ap­pli­ca­tion of drones may at­tract more young peo­ple to fur­ther ex­plore in­tel­li­gent agri­cul­ture.

Au­gust 2, 2018: A drone hov­ers over a paddy field in Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. Farm­ing in the prov­ince has been trans­form­ing be­cause of mech­a­niza­tion and elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. VCG

June 11, 2018: A drone op­er­a­tor changes bat­tery and pes­ti­cide tank in Hami City of China’s Xin­jiang Uygur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion. Dur­ing har­vest peak time, drone op­er­a­tors from Hei­longjiang Prov­ince are of­ten hired to work in other prov­inces and re­gions. VCG

July 23, 2018: A drone op­er­a­tor works in a paddy field in Shuangyashan City, Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. VCG

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