China's increasing focus on food security

The Chinese government is increasingly focused on securing food for the nation's 1.4 billion mouths, even as urbanization sucks more young workers out of agricultural centers in search of better-paying jobs and brighter opportunities elsewhere. 

Enter "smart agriculture." It's no gimmick - new technologies promise to quietly transform agriculture in China and beyond, as farmers gain the power to control the minutest elements of cultivation and need fewer hands to it. Think sensors that read and set carbon dioxide levels, “hydroponic factories” that grow fruit on floating assembly lines, and combine harvesters that drive themselves.

Chinese policymakers have left little ambiguity about the importance of smart agriculture, and high-level policy support and generous state subsidies are helping nurture it. But below the surface, high costs and the difficulties finding a market for value-added goods among China’s price-conscious consumers mean the business case often struggles.

If the state stops feeding the sector, will it grow? A giant glasshouse of some 2,000 square meters (2,150 square feet) holds eight groups of ponds filled with a nutrient-rich solution. Transplanter arms plant seedlings on a floating board, which is carried to the ponds along a track. When each plant grows to a designated size, they are pushed to the edge of the pool, where they are automatically harvested. 

At least, that’s the idea. “We continue to run into issues,” says Chang Shaoping, head of design on the project, which is run by Zhonghuan Yida Facilities Horticulture Technology Co. Ltd."

Read more at Caixin Global (Yinfei, Guanglei, Ruixue and Murphy)

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