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Ningxia wine grape growers brace for late cold as spring arrives

China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-02 09:40

Workers prepare to tie vines for grapes in the spring at a plantation at the eastern foot of Helan Mountain in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region on March 16. WANG PENG/XINHUA

YINCHUAN — With the arrival of warm spring weather, the vast plantation of wine grapes at the eastern foot of Helan Mountain in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region will soon be waking up from hibernation.

The wine grapes will begin to sprout, starting a new life-cycle. However, they still need to pull through the likely late cold waves.

"The buds are too tender to survive the frost, which usually lasts for 20 days and always comes at midnight. At this time of year, we have to stay up all night to reduce the damage," said Zhang Tao, 51, who is responsible for over 173 hectares of wine grapes at Ningxia's Hongsipu winery.

However, this year he is less worried about possible frost disasters thanks to 50 "giant stoves" provided by Ningxia's meteorological department.

"Those stoves will be arranged upwind to protect the vineyard from cold waves," said Zhang, adding that they reduced the damage by at least 35 percent last spring.

The 2-meter-high stoves are actually iron buckets with "two doors" that burn the dead vines cut during the previous autumn. The holes uniformly distributed across their surface enable the fire to get plenty of oxygen, according to the inventor, Zhang Xiaoyu, who is the chief engineer at the meteorological research institute under the regional weather bureau of Ningxia.

"Those holes work as windows that control the burning temperatures and speed by controlling the oxygen," said the expert. "When the cold wave arrives, the fires act like an air conditioner on windy days, heating every corner of the vineyard. On sunny days, the strong smoke keeps the vineyard warm like a blanket."

More importantly, said Zhang Xiaoyu, the stoves are cheap, removable and recyclable, costing just 200 yuan ($27) each, with a working life of over 10 years.

By last year, the planting area of wine grapes in Ningxia had reached 40,133 hectares. With prolonged sunshine and a cool, dry climate, the autonomous region has become a rising star on the world wine map for its top-class wines, and it is also considered a "golden zone" for other fruits such as goji berries, apples and apricots.

However, against the backdrop of global warming, there has been a rise in extreme weather in recent years, bringing with it an increase in damage. Meteorological phenomena such as frost and hail pose a serious threat to the fruit industry.

The Chinese government has made great efforts to guarantee the high-quality development of agriculture through refined meteorological services. Ningxia, for example, established a weather service center for the wine industry and also developed an effective disaster prevention and relief system, which aims to reduce weather-related losses by 15 percent each year, increasing the ecological sustainability of vineyards.

Zhang Xiaoyu, who is responsible for the program, spends at least three months every year on research and development. Apart from the stoves, he has also developed a digital frost-prevention system that can be used on almost all open orchards.

"The system can provide farmers with precise weekly weather reports and detailed frost alarms in advance. In combination, these two methods can make a 'firewall' to keep out the cold," said Zhang, who is busy lecturing and demonstrating in the field these days.

Among those keen to learn is villager Chen Shixiong, who listens carefully to Zhang and asks questions from time to time.

"The frost sneaks in to attack our orchard almost every year at midnight, especially in the blooming season. Zhang's lecture is important and helpful, and we shouldn't always respond passively," said the 58-year-old, who owns an apple orchard in Yongkang township, part of Shapotou district in Zhongwei, Ningxia.

Shapotou is Ningxia's main area for apple production, with a planting area of 4,400 hectares, and nearly 4,000 households from about 10 villages living near the orchards.

The economic losses from frequent frost disasters have undermined the confidence of some villagers in the apple business, according to Wu Qingbao, the deputy town chief. However, this year, they will take Zhang's advice and set up 18 automatic weather stations and prepare stoves in advance, along with the necessary fuel.

"We prune the vines every year, and the dead wood will come in handy. We've checked to ensure that the fire won't send out sparks, and it's safe," Wu said. "We have to admit that the weather service is playing an increasing role in people's lives and production activities."

Zhang Xiaoyu is happy to see that more and more villagers have been mobilized to engage in mass prevention and treatment. Meanwhile, Zhang Tao also hopes nearby wineries will do the same and jointly take precautions to make the "firewall" more solid.


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