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January 18, 2024  China Daily  

Hebei Introduced a Standardized Production Method Tailored for Apple Cultivation

Case Study; Innovative Poverty Alleviation Initiative; Technical Service; Heibei

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In a once impoverished village in North China's Hebei province, traditional farmers have transformed into agricultural innovators equipped with advanced knowledge and skills and even professional titles, enriching not just their minds but also their pockets.

Gangdi village in Neiqiu county, Xingtai, located deep in the Taihang Mountains and home to about 700 residents, struggled with poverty in the 1980s.

The village began its mountain rehabilitation efforts in 1984. Over the course of 10 years, it brought over 467 hectares of barren hills under cultivation, planting more than 200,000 apple trees.

But for a long time, despite each household having its own orchard, the lack of scientific management resulted in apples of poor appearance and taste that fetched low prices.

The villagers were still impoverished, despite living amid what should have been "money trees".

A turning point came in 1996 when Li Baoguo, a professor from Hebei Agricultural University, introduced a standardized production method tailored for apple cultivation in Gangdi.

The 128-step method covered everything from soil preparation and planting, to pruning, organic fertilization, the thinning of flowers and fruits, management, harvesting and sales.

Farmers' adherence to the processes has paid off, with the locally grown Fugang apple becoming a renowned brand, and Gangdi transforming itself into a rich village.

Thanks to the fruitful results, villagers were encouraged to gain more agricultural knowledge and skills.

Since 2013, 169 villagers have received professional technical titles in fruit tree cultivation — five senior technicians, 117 technicians, and 47 assistant technicians — according to the county's government.

An Zengshu, a 67-year-old with more than 40 years of apple growing experience, recently obtained the professional title of technician in fruit tree planting.

"Understanding technology and knowledge is the key to growing good apples," he said. "With the title, I can grow even better fruits and teach others with more confidence."

In honor of the late professor Li, more than 60 professional farmers from Gangdi village, including An, formed a technical service team, with most holding professional titles.

They not only serve local orchards but also provide technical support in nearby areas. In offseason months, the team becomes even busier, offering technical support to orchards in other places.

"Removing excess branches allows light to penetrate, ensuring the trees are well-ventilated and the apples receive more sunlight," Yang Shuhai, an agricultural technician from Gangdi, said as he shared pruning techniques in Tianhu village in Hebei's Jingxing county.

Jingxing farmer Zhao Zhiwen has received guidance from Gangdi experts for several years.

"Every time during the key period of apple planting, Yang will bring members of the technical service team to my orchard to provide technical guidance, sometimes even a dozen times a year," Zhao said.

He said the technical support had boosted the annual income he made from his 2 hectares of land by 80,000 yuan ($11,194) to 90,000 yuan.

The technical service team has developed a 3,867-hectare Fugang apple planting base and helped fruit farmers increase their annual incomes by an average of more than 10,000 yuan.

After experiencing the sweet taste of success brought by knowledge and skills, the professional farmers in Gangdi kept innovating.

One expert farmer, Yang Shuangkui, has independently developed five new techniques, one of which rejuvenates old orchards, increasing income by over 450,000 yuan a hectare.

The technique has been rolled out across more than 20 hectares, boosting farmers' incomes by millions of yuan.

The burgeoning apple industry in Gangdi has brought many people back to the village.

Wang Lianjie, 41, returned from working in a city in 2007 after witnessing his fellow villagers prosper from apple farming. Initially lacking knowledge, Wang helped his father in an orchard while attending Li's classes.

His dedication quickly turned him from a novice into an expert, and in 2013 he earned the technician title.

"Now I manage 280 fruit trees and run an agricultural supply store, earning over 100,000 yuan a year," Wang said, adding that his success allowed him to buy a car and send his child to a city school.

(Original Title: Farmers add shine to apple production

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