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Rice-duck system plumps Jilin farmers' feathers

By LIU MINGTAI in Changchun and ZHOU HUIYING | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-18 09:25

A tourist watches ducks swimming in a rice paddy in the village of Erdaogang in Panshi, Jilin province, in June. [Photo by SUN ZHIJUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Long before ducks and rice end up on the dinner table, the unlikely pair are already working together to help some Chinese farmers.

The unique, integrated rice-duck farming system practiced in the paddy fields of Erdaogang village in Panshi, Jilin province, permits farmers to produce high-quality organic rice in an eco-friendly fashion.

It involves growing rice and raising ducks in the same paddy field.

"We introduce around 200 ducks per hectare of rice once the seedlings have been transplanted," said rice farmer, Xiu Jinku. "The ducks eat weeds and insects, their paddling stimulates plant growth and their manure provides a natural fertilizer.

"We can produce high-quality rice rich in vitamins and minerals without using pesticides or chemical fertilizers," he said. "Moreover, raising ducks and growing rice on the same land also reduces costs and helps us increase incomes."

The 58-year-old farmer has grown rice for nearly four decades but only started using the rice-duck farming system in the spring of 2019.

"In October 2018, I watched an agricultural documentary film about rice-and-duck farming and I was immediately interested in the new model," he said. "I began to study how I could apply it on my own land."

Several months later, Xiu started to apply the system to his 0.67 hectares of rice paddies.

"With the first harvest of high-quality rice, I made a profit of over 30,000 yuan ($4,400), which was much higher than before," he said. "So I leased additional hectares the following year."

Last year, he expanded his rice-and-duck farming to over 1.33 hectares and earned about 100,000 yuan.

Xiu's success has encouraged more villagers to follow the system.

"Now there are nine families in my village farming in the same way," he said.

Xiu said that he cultivates seedlings in greenhouses from April 1 to 12, earlier than he would have done under the traditional growing system.

"This helps to produce better quality rice with a better flavor," he said. "After transplanting the seedlings, we introduce the ducklings."

"The ducks stay in the fields for around three months, providing the organic fertilizer to help the rice grow," he said. "They are a critical part of the process and without them, the rice could fail."

Last year, a cooperative specializing in the method was set up in Erdaogang village.

"Every year during the rice-growing period, agricultural technicians dispatched by the local bureau of agriculture conduct tests to confirm that there are no pesticide or chemical fertilizer residues in the fields, and that the rice meets the organic standards," said Xiu.

"The data they collect can be found on the internet as a guarantee of the quality of the rice."

Erdaogang rice has been well-received by customers and sells at a premium.

"In the past, we could sell rice grown the traditional way for 6 to 10 yuan per kilogram," he said. "Now, it sells for at least 30 yuan per kg, and demand usually exceeds supply."

Villagers in Erdaogang have also adopted new approaches to marketing their produce, including using social media, e-commerce platforms and livestreaming.

"I have leased a further two hectares of farmland this year and I'm expecting a profit of around 300,000 yuan," Xiu said. "I see a bright future for farmers using the rice-and-duck system. People are beginning to pay more attention to having a healthy diet and are more willing to buy organic rice.

"We have received solid support from the government, which will help accelerate the development of the new system," he said. "We have great prospects from developing, promoting and prospering from ecological agriculture."

You Minxing contributed to this story.

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