Farmers have lofty hopes for yields as strip planting increases

Hebei province in northern China announced that it had encouraged farmers to plant at least 1 million mu (67k hectares) of strip corn-soybean fields this year.

Planting alternating strips corn and soybeans in fields has been the latest government policy push to increase yields and production, however this is still a relatively new practice for most farmers.

In Hebei, the Ministry of Agriculture and extension offices said they had set up WeChat groups with farmers to guide them on seed selection and herbicide and pesticide applications as many farmers had never done strip planting before.

This style of field management is more labor intensive in terms of planting, spraying, and harvesting, but farmers believe it’s worth the additional labor because they will earn more.

In a recent state media piece, one farmer in Hebei said it was his first year doing this style of planting, but he expected high returns due to the additional labor.

However, he said each mu (1/15th hectare) of land is expected to yield 185 kg of soybeans which will mean additional income of 1100 yuan. That would imply a soybean yield of 2.78 tons per hectare which would be 40% higher than China’s average yield.

Harvesting 185kg of soybeans from a field that was entirely planted with soybeans would be a well above-average yield if the entire field was planted with soybeans. Given that this field is strip planted with corn and soybeans, the yield seems implausible.

This year has seen many officials pushing strip planting since it is seen as a method to increase China’s soybean production without sacrificing corn area. Many farmers may try this more labor-intensive method this year, but if the final yields aren’t what they had been expecting, then it will be difficult to expand strip planting even if it does increase overall production.

Another area of focus for the government is planting on saline-alkali land. This week the National Development and Reform Commission dispatched a research team to Jilin province to examine technical plans for increasing planting on unused saline-alkali land in western Jilin province. The team is also investigation water transfer and irrigation projects as part of a goal to increase grain production in the region “in order to ensure national food security”.