Government assistance apple of farmers' eyes


LUOCHUAN, Shaanxi - Farmers in Luochuan county, Shaanxi province, have become rich by using technology and services provided by the local government to increase their apple crop.

Zhang Yanmin, 36, a farmer in the county's Luoyang village, began planting apple trees in 1993 after graduating from junior middle school. He now enjoys a prosperous life.

"I got about 120,000 yuan ($18,855) from my nearly half-hectare apple orchard this year," Zhang said. "My apples sold well in the coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, which businessmen came directly from to buy apples from my orchard."

Zhang said his attempts at apple farming had not gone smoothly at first. He was not familiar, he explained, with the technology he needed to make his work successful.

"In the first three years, I had to deal with pests, frost and hail and lost almost all of my investment in the orchard," Zhang said. "Then I had an opportunity to receive free training from the local government about technology that can be used to plant apple trees. I learned about various planting techniques that can be used in my orchard."

A year later, the quality of Zhang's orchard had improved greatly and the apples he grew there were selling well, bringing him about 100,000 yuan a year. With that money, Zhang's family has managed to move out of the artificial cave they had lived in and into a two-story building. They now enjoy the use of tap water, solar heating, a gas stove and a car.

Other Luochuan farmers have benefited from the local government's support of the apple industry. Their net income per capita rose to 6,352 yuan in 2010, which was 1.5 times as large as farmers' net income per capita in all of Shaanxi province.

Lei Zhixue, director of the Luochuan county information office, said a fourth of all Luochuan farmers have cars. He also said the apple industry has helped farmers to stay at home and avoid having to go elsewhere for work while attracting migrant workers to the county.

Luochuan lies in the middle of the Loess Plateau, where the temperature varies widely from day to night and the sun shines strong. Both of those climate traits are conducive to apple production.

In 1979, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization deemed the county to be one of the best places in the world to grow apples.

In the late 1980s, the county government began helping farmers develop the apple industry and providing advice on planting techniques and marketing.

Qu Juntao, senior agronomist and director of the county's apple technology development office, said 95 percent of the county's 44,515 hectares of farmland are occupied by apple orchards. "We established a set of local standards to govern apple production and sent more than 400 apple technicians to every village in the county to help farmers meet the standards," Qu said.

He said the county strictly prohibits the use of chemical pesticides in apple farming and encourages the application of natural fertilizers to ensure the fruit is of a high quality and has been grown in a green way.

To ensure there is a source of natural fertilizer and to promote the practice of circular agriculture, the county began breeding pigs in 2008. By the end of 2010, there were 652,000 pigs in the county and those animals were producing 2.3 million tons of natural fertilizer a year.

Beside giving technical support, the county government has also helped apple farmers market their products. It has organized 222 apple farmers' cooperatives and established a website for the sale of apples.

Luochuan apples are now sold in 28 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities throughout China and in more than 20 countries in Southeast Asia and Europe, Lei said.

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