Fertile swathes of land in northeast are bedrock of national food security
The Chinese Academy of Sciences will continue to use advanced technologies, from remote-sensing to big data, to effectively use and protect black soil resources — highly fertile soil located in northeastern China that serves as the bedrock of national food security.
China has around 1.09 million square kilometers of black soil, accounting for 12 percent of the global total. Most of the world's black soil is located in the United States, Ukraine and Argentina.
China's black soil produces about a quarter of its grain output. These crops mostly consist of rice, maize and soybean, according to the Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The region also contributed to 70.3 percent of increased crop yields last year.
Jiang Ming, director of the institute, called black soil the "panda of arable land" due to it being extremely important to food security. However, after decades of intense reclamation, soil degradation has become a major challenge for the country's "grain barn".
"China's black soil is becoming poorer, thinner and more compacted," he said, referring to the loss of organic nutrients, soil loss and erosion, and compression from the use of heavy farm machinery.
Zhang Tao, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the academy attaches great importance to the effective use and protection of black soil resources.
Last month, a law on black soil conservation was put into effect to safeguard food security and protect the ecosystem.
In recent years, the academy has launched a massive research campaign to evaluate and tackle black soil degradation, creating new crop varieties and farming equipment that can ensure the sustainability and productivity of this fertile land.
Its efforts have led to discoveries and breakthroughs in black soil conservation and use, cementing China's position as the leader in global black soil research since 2021, with the contribution of around 52 percent of academic papers published in the field.
One notable achievement was elaboration of the mechanisms of black soil degradation, which lead to more environmentally friendly farming practices in the demonstration zones in Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.
Moreover, agronomists created new soybean varieties with high oil and protein content, that are adaptive, high-yield and resistant to saline and alkaline conditions. The varieties are part of the Dongsheng series of soybeans, and have been planted on over 3.33 million hectares across Heilongjiang province.
In the eastern part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, engineers developed a large autonomous agricultural machine called T300 that is guided by remote-sensing satellite data and artificial intelligence, said Zhang Yucheng, a senior engineer from the Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Despite its large wheels and nearly 6-meter frame that looks like a cross between an armored beetle and a monster truck, it weighs less than a standard machine, resulting in less soil compaction, he said.
The vehicle is capable of autonomous planting, farming and harvesting, while collecting large amounts of environmental data at the same time for scientific evaluation and decision-making.
"This represents the development from mechanization to automation in safeguarding black soil resources," he said.
Zhang Jiabao, a researcher from the Institute of Soil Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the purpose of black soil conservation is to ensure its fertility and productivity.
"Our country has 1.4 billion people to feed. We must protect arable land and make it sustainable so that our children have food to eat," he said. (China Daily)
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