Sowing the seeds of farming's future

Updated: 2013-04-01 05:47

By Wang Kaihao in Hohhot (China Daily)

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Agronomist Mei Yuanxue feels relieved to see the earth tilled in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region's Horqin Left Wing Middle Banner.

The 48-year-old ethnic Manchu isn't a farmer herself but, rather, has been a savior to many.

She helped locals save their harvests after insects threatened 260,000 hectares of corn last summer.

Villager Wang Shoushan recalls the anxiety.

"I'm a veteran farmer, but those tiny bugs still inflicted huge damage to my crops. Without Mei's help, my entire year of toiling would have been in vain."

Mei shuttled among the banner's fields and guided farmers in their fight against the pests. She lost more than 5 kg in 20 days, she says.

But Mei is used to such crises. She has been on grain production's frontlines for 24 years and is now the banner's deputy chief of agriculture and animal husbandry.

She could have taken a well-paid job at a seed company or government post after graduating from a local agronomic college in 1989.

"But I wanted to stay in the fields," she says.

"That's not for any lofty reason. Rather, I didn't want to waste the time I spent studying agricultural technology."

Her father, a doctor, was disappointed. Her relatives called her a "fool".

Mei found rural realities frustrating. Many farmers refused to depart from old cultivation methods.

Mei had to grow grain alongside the farmers to show them new methods' effectiveness. But some would return to their antiquated methods once she left.

"Most people didn't understand why they had to invest half a year's income in technology," she recalls.

"I was a young woman. Why should elderly farmers have listened to me?"

But the results of her cultivation methods convinced most.

Reducing nitrogenous fertilizer, which decreased soil quality, was a big change for locals.

Corn farmer Fang Dianjun recalls: "More than a decade ago, we'd compete to see who could use the most fertilizer to boost yields, but it didn't work well."

Mei led a team to research the soil's composition in 2002 to hone the best farming practices according to the local land's characteristics.

The banner's average yield increased from 6,750 kg to 8,250 kg a hectare. That year was also the first time it was officially recognized as one of the nation's "excellent grain production counties".

Mei later developed 10 national-level agricultural technology projects. The banner has led Inner Mongolia in yields for the past eight years.

"Today's farmers are more welcoming to new technologies, and I don't have to grow corn with them to prove the methods' value," she says.

"But I still can't leave the frontline."

She has visited the banner's 516 villages to offer technical guidance and has given more than 500 lectures to 2,500 technicians.

Mei was elected as a delegate to the 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China last November.

"Spreading agricultural technology isn't just my job. It's my lifestyle," she says.

Her hopes for the future rest on her son, who's earning his master's degree at China Agricultural University.

"I hope the hardships of my years of work won't lead him to resist working with the grassroots," she says.

"I'll respect his decisions. But through enduring such hardships, he could grow."

And knowing what makes things grow better is what Mei does best.

(China Daily 04/01/2013 page20)