China is aiming to feed its rocketing urban population by setting up a network of demonstration farms aimed at modernising farm practices and increasing yields.
About 45 miles west of Shanghai, the city of Kunshan has exploded into an industrial powerhouse, producing much of the world’s computer components and products such as iPhones, iPads and iPods.
It is also host to production plants of some of the biggest multinational agrichemical manufacturers and the producers of their raw materials.
Suburban agriculture has increased with the rapid development of China’s industrial cities, becoming more intensive and producing higher quality food for the workers.
Around Kunshan it’s no different and 15 miles south of the city is the local demonstration farm growing predominantly rice, but also fruits, peas and grape vines.
Manager at the Da Tang ecological garden, Liudi Tang, told Farmers Weekly on a recent tour organised by Chinese agrichemical manufacturer Rotam that the area is perfect for growing rice.
“We have a long history of growing rice in the region and the heavy clay soils, combined with plentiful water and warm summer temperatures make an ideal combination.”
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Farmers in the area are invited to the farm to see best practice in action, particularly when it comes to crop protection and Mr Tang and his team also provide forecasting for pest and disease threats through the season.
Jason Liu, fungicides expert with Rotam – who are based in Kunshan – explains that much of the forecasting will be based on weather through the season.
“If it’s wet and humid, there will be more disease present in rice crops, so it will often justify more fungicide treatments. The forecasts also include migratory insects, which have the potential to wipe out entire crops,” he adds.
The rice crop is typically transplanted from mid-May to early June after being propagated in a glasshouse to the two- or three-leaf stage. “Many farms in China still carry out the planting process by hand, although mechanisation is gathering pace,” explains Mr Tang.
The main disease threat to rice is rice blast, which can infect the crop very soon after planting and can also infect the crop when heads have emerged later in the growing season.
The causal pathogen, Magnaporthe grisea, can infect other cereal crops such as wheat and can cause up to 50% yield loss if left untreated.
Chinese rice facts
- World’s largest producer of rice, accounting for 26% of global crop
- Kunshan farmers achieved yields of 9t/ha last year (world average at 4t/ha)
- Government purchase crop at determined price
- Last year’s price was fixed at 3,200 Yuan/t (£320/t)
Mr Liu says that the disease typically requires two or three treatments and rotating fungicides is important to manage resistance.
“Relying on one product can see resistance develop quickly, so we use actives such as triticonazole, thiophanate-methyl, tebuconazole and flutriafol,” he adds.
Sheath blight is also a threat to rice yields, infecting the crop mid- to late-tillering and caused by Rhizoctonia solani, a pathogen potato growers in the UK will be familiar with.
“We also use a foliar applied biopesticide, which contains Bacillus cereus as part of an integrated strategy,” explains Mr Liu.
Migratory insects are also a problem in the region and monitoring of pest numbers and communicating them to growers’ plays a vital role in ensuring they are adequately controlled.
Mr Tang explained that the planthopper and leaf roller are often blown in on winds from south-east Asian countries such as the Philippines so communication internationally, in addition to monitoring crops, is vital to inform growers of when to treat with insecticides.
“It is important that when a treatment is required all farmers apply an insecticide at the same time to stop the migration across the area,” he said.
Planthoppers can be devastating and destroy entire crops at high populations, but leaf rollers and the other main pest threat, the rice stem borer, lay eggs and larvae cause damage from direct feeding.
Timing of treatment is therefore crucial for the roller and borer to stop the larvae in their tracks. “It must be at the early larvae stage to minimise feeding,” says Mr Tang.
The two or three insecticides required to protect crops also need to include a range of active ingredients, with imidacloprid now ineffective due to widespread resistance in planthoppers.
“Pymetrozine has also lost some efficacy against planthoppers, but is still used, along with the neonicotinoid nitenpyram. Growers can also use indoxacarb and chlorantraniliprole for leaf roller and stem borer,” says Mr Liu.
“Pesticide rotation will be key to keeping on top of the resistance problem.”
Rotam’s weed expert Miru Zhang says that two herbicide applications complete the crop protection programme for Chinese rice growers in the Jiangsu region, with active pretilachlor timed at pre-emergence.
Cockspur grass and red sprangletop are the grassweed threats, alongside two broad-leaved weeds that favour the wet conditions of the rice fields – heartleaf false pickerelweed and variable flatsedge – also causing problems.
“We also use a post-emergence application of penoxsulam and cyhalofop to clear up any weeds to come through the pre-emergence,” adds Miss Zhang.
No compromise on quality
Rotam is a growing Chinese agrichemical company specialising in innovative post-patent pesticide products that are competitive on price, but not at the expense of quality and performance.
Rotam’s commercial and marketing manager for the UK, Chris Pye, explained at their impressive laboratory and production facilities in China that while the UK business is still young, it now has a significant share of the tebuconazole fungicide market.
“That has been built on quality and we are also expanding the range of sulfonylurea herbicide products for UK cereal growers as an alternative choice to the options that currently dominate the market,” he said.
The company is primarily supplying farmers direct through independent advisers or buying groups across the UK, but also uses a network of small, local distributors.
“We are now providing good- quality products at value, delivered direct to farm,” adds Mr Pye.