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Focus turns to oil crops as spring planting season nears

By Li Lei | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-02-08 09:08

Farmers tend to plant seedlings in a greenhouse in Yongzhou, Hunan province, on Tuesday. HE HONGFU/FOR CHINA DAILY

China's top agricultural official has urged local authorities to strengthen grainfield management and shore up planting areas of major oil crops in the runup to the annual springtime planting season, which starts between February and May nationally from south to north.

Tang Renjian, director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group Office, said on Monday that the interventions were aimed at raising food productivity and securing a bumper harvest of crops including wheat, soybean and rapeseed in the summer.

Speaking at a teleconference on bolstering preparedness for spring plowing, Tang, also minister of agriculture and rural affairs, urged his subordinates to attach utmost importance to this year's food production.

He said increased food yield is crucial to stabilizing food prices and bolstering confidence in China's economic recovery.

" (Officials must) consciously shoulder the political duty to safeguard national food security and make solid efforts in all aspects of food production," he told agricultural officials from areas including Heilongjiang and Hunan provinces, the country's major grain-growing areas.

Tang noted that the production of the crops to be harvested in summer is generally faring well, though challenges have emerged such as rising production costs due to hefty fertilizer prices.

He said interventions including more vigorous irrigation and pesticide-spraying efforts are needed for wheat and rapeseed, whose seedlings are undergoing a key transition period and had been affected by adverse factors such as colder-than-usual temperatures and inadequate rainfall.

The minister encouraged officials to fight uphill struggles to expand the growing areas of soybeans, a major oil crop that had been edged out by corn and other lucrative cash crops in Northeast China.

Efforts must be made to uphold soybean growing areas through technological innovation and incentive policies, or by promoting food processing to increase the crop's profits, Tang said.

He asked relevant departments to speed up the rollout of more detailed policies over subsidizing soybean growers and soybean-growing counties; expand the pilot zones for insurance designed to reduce the risk for growing soybean; and narrowing the price gap between soybean and corn.

Tang said local authorities must explore methods such as intercropping with corn to bolster soybean production and help farmers solve problems relating to farming equipment and techniques.

The emphatic tone over soybean production was part of China's increased effort to curb its reliance on imported oil crops.

China had resorted to a mix of methods to expand the crop's farming, such as rotating the crop with corn in Northeast China, and intercropping the two foods in places such as Northwest China and the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

The efforts had increased the area of soybean fields to 10.26 million hectares last year, the largest area since 1958, and pushed the crop's output to 20.28 million metric tons in 2022, the first time soybean output on the mainland has surpassed 20 million tons, according to the agriculture ministry figures.

Other oil crops such as peanuts, flax, sesame and sunflower have also been promoted across northern regions.

In preparation for spring plowing, Tang urged officials to transport farming materials such as fertilizers in advance and launched a crackdown on fake or faulty products.

Wu Hongyao, deputy director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group Office, said on Friday that the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, which officially ended on Jan 27, didn't cause a spike in COVID-19 infections in the countryside as experts had feared, and the risk for the virus to further spread among farmers was low.

He said authorities must make sure that the epidemic does not affect spring planting.

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