THE consecutive bumper harvest of China’s grain industry is largely the result of a modern agricultural industry driven by intelligent systems. This year, the country’s output of summer grain topped 141.74 million tons, laying the foundation for a total bumper harvest this year.
Behind the impressive yield are a chain of smart components all working together to make this possible.
UAV in the Spotlight
In recent years, with the vigorous development of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, agricultural plant protection UAVs have distinguished themselves in the field of intelligent agriculture. One of the most widely used applications is pesticide spraying.
On October 29, 2018, an unmanned combine harvester is working in the national grain production demonstration zone of Xinghua City, Jiangsu Province.
In large-scale planting, pesticide spraying and fertilizer application are necessary procedures. Tractors or manual operators were frequently used before the advent of UAV. Tractor spraying can easily ruin crops, while manual spraying results in uneven distribution of pesticides which can also easily adhere to the operator, resulting in risks such as poisoning.
In Xihua County, central China’s Henan Province, a white UAV circles over the vast wheat fields. Farmer Yu Tianlong watches the UAVs spray pesticide, amazed.
Yu planted 23 hectares of wheat last spring, and in the past years he and eight employees would spend at least three days spraying the crop. In addition to pesticide costs, the labor costs were more than RMB 100 per person per day.
In 2017, Yu began to test UAVs to spray pesticides, which saved both time and money: The time has shortened to six hours and the cost of pesticides and rented drones per hectare is RMB 270, which could save RMB 2,300 in total over the previous year. Besides, UAV spraying uses less pesticides and spreads evenly.
“Not only is it efficient, but it can save crops at critical moments.” Yu said that symptom of wheat scab disease can usually last three to five days, making it difficult to spray pesticides manually. UAV spraying can quickly control the disease and avoid major losses.
At present, 73,000 hectares of wheat in Xihua County have been sprayed by UAVs. Since 2016, the county has invested more than RMB 10 million to promote this new technology. It has trained more than 3,500 operators to serve areas such as Xinjiang, Gansu, Anhui, Heilongjiang, and Guangxi. The annual plant protection operation area is 420,000 hectares, with an income of more than RMB 50 million. From the introduction of technology to the development of industries, Xihua County has also developed an industrial park that integrates research and development, production, sales, and promotion of UAVs.
Today, agricultural plant protection UAVs are not uncommon in China’s agricultural production. “China is a large agricultural country with 120 million hectares of farmland. It takes large quantities of manpower to spray pesticides every year. It takes only about 30 minutes to spray a hectare of farmland with a UAV, which saves time and manpower. This field promises a huge market,” said Zhu Mingyan, founder of Chongqing Lingchuangyili Technology Limited, is very optimistic about the sector’s development. In 2017, the company ventured into the agricultural UAV field with a whole industry chain model of research and development, sales and application.
Through a settlement system, the payment for the sold grain is immediately deposited to the farmer’s bank account.
According to Zhu, the pesticides are sprayed remotely by human or computer programs, and the efficiency is at least 20 times higher than that of manual spraying. Meanwhile, UAVs have more advantages in spraying pesticides, such as better absorption and less losses of pesticides.
The challenge of flight time must be solved for the effective application of UAVs in smart agriculture. In Zhu’s view, a common UAV for pesticide spraying has a load of 15 kg and a battery life of only about 30 minutes. “Only after solving the problem of flight time, will the cost of using UAVs be further reduced, so that it can be more widely applied to agricultural plant protection, and better empower agriculture with intelligence,” said Zhu.
Jinchang City of Gansu Province is located in the middle of the Hexi Corridor, a granary of northwest China, where July is the harvest season for local wheat.
Harvest time is the most anticipated season of a year, but also the busiest and hardest season for 60-year-old Feng Dejin of Meibei Village in Yongchang County of Jinchang. He has planted two hectares of land, two-thirds of which are wheat and the rest is corn. To complete the harvest of wheat, in addition to renting a combine-harvester, he has to make more than 20 trips driving a tractor to transport grain from farmland to home.
It was a laborious and inefficient harvesting method. Luo Xiwen, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at South China Agricultural University, said: “China’s rural labor force faces a structural shortage, and the agricultural labor force is getting older. Therefore, intelligent agricultural machinery is urgently needed to improve labor productivity, resource utilization ratio, and land output capacity.”
The per capita arable land area of Jinchang City is about 0.5 hectares, and there is an urgent need to develop modern agriculture in the sparsely populated but large arable land area.
In a wheat field in Tianshengkang Village, Jinchuan District of Jinchang, a pair of machines work closely together. After a short while, a vast swath of wheat field is harvested, and the grain is poured onto a truck. According to Luo, this is a master-slave navigation harvesting system that can carry out unmanned operations for collecting and transporting grain. Compared with the traditional combine-harvester, it is more efficient and convenient, and completely removes the need for manual labor.
A few months ago, the South China Agricultural University and Lovol Heavy Industry, China’s leading agricultural equipment company, jointly developed this master-slave navigation harvesting system. Based on the Beidou global positioning system, the system connects the unmanned harvester and the unmanned grain truck through a wireless ad hoc coordinated network.
When the unmanned harvester is full of grain, the unloading command is automatically sent to the unmanned grain truck. The truck intelligently plans its own walking route according to the harvester’s operation route and the length of the unloading grain cylinder.
Liu Xiangsan, director of the Jinchang City Agricultural Machinery Administration, is excited at the prospects of this new type of modern automatic agricultural equipment. “This unmanned agricultural machinery promises a great boon for our Hexi region. Our city has a large cultivated land area, this kind of machinery is especially needed,” said Liu.
Agricultural machinery navigation is an important scientific and technological support system for precision agriculture and intelligent agriculture development, and also a symbol of modern agricultural development, according to Luo Xiwen. He is confident about the development prospects of automatic systems and believes they will play an ever increasing role in modern agriculture.
Selling Grain Conveniently
Jiangsu Province is one of the six major wheat producing areas in China. In 2019, it once again enjoyed a bumper wheat harvest, but in the past local farmers were always concerned about failing to collect payment on time.
At a grain purchase point in Yandu District, Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, Shen Anming, a local grain farmer, was beaming after receiving payment. According to him, the quality of wheat he planted this year meets the standard of first-class wheat, meaning his total income is more than RMB 37,000. Through a settlement system, the money was immediately deposited to his account.
According to Jiang Qiyun, head of the grain purchase point, in order to protect the rights of farmers, the local grain purchasing department now uses the settlement system designed by Inspur Group, China’s leading cloud computing and big data service provider. The system utilizes the Internet of Things, computer and remote monitoring technology to create an information management system for farmers, grain purchasers, warehouses, and their supervisory departments, aiming at improving their informationalization level. This settlement system strengthens supervision of business and funds, puts an end to issuing an IOU, and lets farmers be assured of selling grain.
The function of the grain operation management software developed by Inspur Group is powerful. In addition to effectively improve the management level and overall work efficiency of warehouses, it also has the function of supervision of grain acquisition management personnel, thus standardizing the acquisition process and accelerating the warehousing process.
After more than 10 years of exploration, practice, and innovation, Inspur ranks first in the market share of the domestic grain industry, providing information services for tens of thousands of grain purchasing and selling enterprises and warehouses nationwide. At the second China Grain Trade Conference, Inspur Group comprehensively demonstrated its intelligent food solutions, such as smart collection and storage, grain trading, logistics, and quality traceability.
With the rapid development of technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things, China’s grain industry digitalization has developed rapidly. The digitalization and intelligence of the grain industry has become an important guarantee for maintaining national food security, and the grain information market has become a hotly contested spot among various businesses. “We hope to serve informatization development of the domestic grain industry with Inspur’s latest technology and practical achievements, providing advanced and efficient technical support for central and local governments to manage grain reserves and implement food safety responsibilities,” said Zhang Zhaoping, vice president of Inspur Group.