Reported by Chaohsin Hu & Ziyi Cheng for CNEWS, Pingtung
In recent years, Taiwan’s Pingtung Tropical Agriculture Expo has gained national recognition, with its spectacular rice fields — filled with vibrancy and color — becoming a focal point of the annual opening. This year, in collaboration with the CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League), Pingtung County Government transformed rice fields into three-dimensional color artworks of five CPBL mascots. This was achieved with the assistance of the Shennong Award Recipient, Lin Qingyuan. This year’s expo marks not only an influx of annual tourism, but has become a hotspot for baseball fans across Taiwan. Tourists from all across Taiwan are expected to visit Pingtung throughout the event.
The colored, domestically produced rice variates supplied by the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute Council of Agriculture have been used to produce many breathtaking landscape art installations. Despite this, Lin Qingyuan, former Chairman of the Taiwan Riceplant Association, revealed to CNEWS that 20 years ago he had even considered dropping agriculture all together.
“Because life isn’t easy for old-school farmers.” Farming has been passed down generations of the Lin family. As a child, Mr.Lin worked in the fields alongside his father, and now it’s his turn to impart his knowledge of rice cultivation to his two sons. With over 30 years of farming experience, Mr.Lin originally worked as a tenant farmer. This changed around 20 years ago, after his mother passed away. At this time he took over the family’s rice seedling farm to take the pressure off of his father, who had worked the fields for too many years. Through a combination of increased mechanization and the high-quality seeds provided by the Agricultural Improvement Office, his rice seedling farm has become the largest in Pingtung County, comprising 1,600 hectares of farmland and a year-round supply of rice seedlings.
Mr.Lin has been thoroughly impressed by the various policies aimed at improving agriculture brought forward by the Council of Agriculture throughout the years. Most noteworthy is the three-stage cultivation method for quality rice — through this initiative the cultivation of rice variates is managed from the get-go, ensuring that the best qualities of premium domestic varieties are passed on. Nowadays Pingtung rice farmers have access to seedlings for many different varieties, including: Tainan No.11, Taigeng No.9, Kaohsiung No.147 (fragrant), Kaohsiung No.145, etc. Purchase prices are guaranteed through the consistent quality of crops and contracted production models, this, in turn, provides farmers that rely on seasonal weather conditions, with an income guarantee.
“Selecting suitable variates is key to maintaining stable yields and good income for farmers.” In years gone by rice farmers would simply grab a handful of the best-looking rice from the harvest to use for the next season, he said. The Agricultural Improvement Office from the Council of Agriculture changed this process, they began to provide the rice seeds and ensured a good source for farms in the whole of Pingtung, by cultivating seedlings in specialized seedling farms.
He explained that 30 years ago, just 600-720 kg of rice could be harvested from 0.1 ha of land each season, Those numbers represent the best yields in the local area. Now, however, yields in the same areas of Pingtung exceed 1,200 kg of rice (weight in wet seed, equ 70% in dry seed) per 0.1 ha of land each season. Achieved through years of determination, this represents a near double in yields and has a lot to do with those seeds provided by the Agricultural Improvement Office.
This being said, the pilot process for the original seeds was not without its difficulties. Mr.Lin explained that it took years of trial and error for him to successfully cultivate the Taigeng No.9 and Kaohsiung No.147 variates. Certain yields can only now be made after he taught other farmers what he had learned. “Take, for example, the Taigeng No.9 variety, it’s essential that “Prophet Rice” technology is used throughout cultivation, otherwise the rice will end up suffering from Rice Blast. In order to achieve more stable yields, the Prophet Rice technology should also be used for crops of Tainan No.11.”
This combination of innovative agricultural technology and unaltered rice seeds has become a real recipe for success for farmers. Prophet Rice healthy seedling technology was co-developed by Taiwan’s National Farmers’ Association and Germany’s Bayer. Seedlings are protected by three long-lasting pesticides and vaccinated to prevent pests and disease. During the first two months of cultivation, the seedlings do not require spraying with any pesticides, this not only reduces the amount of trips that farmers have to make to the fields, but is also more environmentally friendly.
Mr.Lin pointed out that the improvements, brought about by the pilot process during recent years, have been substantial, explaining that previous yields and yields from the improved process were simply “poles apart.” Farmers that use Prophet Rice technology are extremely proud and even enjoy their trips into the fields, as crops are kept in prime condition, free from disease and pests.
Farmers that do not use Prophet Rice technology simply cannot let their guard down. One missed treatment and crops are rife with Rice Blast. It’s extremely disheartening for these farmers when they go into the fields to conduct inspections. “Some of these farmers only dare go into the fields at night,” Mr.Lin joked. Following the roll-out of the pilot scheme, uptake of Prophet Rice technology in Pingtung has skyrocketed in recent years.
The government has been actively encouraging young people to return home and engage in agriculture. Other than Mr.Lin’s eldest son, who works at TSMC, both of his younger sons have joined him on the family farm. At the mention of his children, Mr.Lin’s face simply lights up, unable to hide the grin from his face. He explained that he was very proud of all of his children, and that his youngest sons remind him of himself when he was a child — watching and learning from their father and keeping the family legacy alive.
Mr.Lin encourages the younger generation to get involved in agricultural production. With the various support programs brought forth by the government, purchase prices are guaranteed from the moment the first seed is sown. All that is needed on the farmer’s part is determination — determination to become one of the dubbed “Big Tenant Farmers” and the determination to source quality variates with stable prices. This, in conjunction with professional team partnerships and price guarantees backed by contracted production models. What this means is that an annual income amounting to tens of thousands in USD is no longer just a dream for the Taiwanese farmer.
Governmental promotion of the traceability system for production and sales has provided consumers with peace of mind and an increased willingness to support the domestic industry. This, in turn, acts as an incentive for farmers to further engage in the traceability of crop production and sales, all of which creates a truly virtuous cycle. “As market demand grows, the traceability of crop production and sales will only increase. The future of agriculture is in the hands of consumers,” says Mr.Lin.
Photo credit: CNEWS Press Kits
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