OTTAWA — Like the United States, China is facing issues related to
deterioration in the environment, notably air pollution, soil erosion
and water pollution. However, with a population of 1,355,692,576 (July
2014 estimate), the world’s largest population in a country that is the
fourth largest country geographically, China’s water, air and land are
in much worse shape at their space on the globe. And China is reaching
out for help. Jim Hoorman, Assistant Professor with Ohio State
University Extension and Putnam County Extension Educator, is one of the
specialists to which the country has turned.
During the last week of July, Hoorman was working with farmers in Heilong Jiang, a northeast province of China.
and two other Ohio State University professors were there as part of an
intercollegiate, international agricultural program with the Heilong
Jiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences. They were there through a
recommendation by another OSU professor, Dr. Larry Brown, a water table
management, drainage specialist who has worked in the province, an area
which has many wetlands. Area farmers mentioned their interest in “no
till” farming to Jones, as well as a desire to reduce their herbicide
and pesticide use.
“Larry recommended myself, Rafiq Islam and Alan Sundermeier,” Hoorman said. “This was our first trip.”
12 days, Hoorman, Islam and Sundermeier talked with farmers about how
to get no-till started, how nutrients are cycling and how some of
China’s soil compaction issues could be solved by using cover crops.
Hoorman said they drove six and half hours one day to visit some sites
and drove back the next day.
“Very, very intense agriculture
there,” he said, adding that Heilong Jiang province grows as much as 40
to 50 percent of China’s food supply. “In China, only about 10 percent
of the land is used for agriculture. This is kind of their bread basket.
We drove for 100 miles and all we saw was corn. We drove another 200
miles square and it was just rice and then we drove for another 150
miles and it was just about all continuous soybeans. Everything there is
managed. Everything is in a straight row, including every tree.”
said there are no family farms in the province. “In other parts of
China, there may be smaller farms (five to ten acres). [In Heilong
Jiang] you can drive through the country and you won’t see a house for
miles. Then you’ll see a village, and that village farms 10,000 to
15,000 acres in a community or corporate farm. We’d see 15 to 30
tractors all lined up. They farm as a group and everybody has a job.
They spray the fields several times. You don’t see insects, birds or
wildlife. It’s a very controlled environment.”
When the farmers go
home, adds Hoorman, they may have one half to three acres of home
garden. “There are no lawns, every inch of ground is planted in
vegetables and some fruits. That is the family’s significant food
The soils in the province are very productive, black
soils, said Hoorman, very similar to the Hoytville or Pewamo soils that
we have in Northwest Ohio.
“But they’re tilling their soils and
have been for hundreds of years, so the soils are becoming very hard and
dense and they’re becoming concerned about that,” he said. “They’ve
only been no-tilling for about two years. Two years ago their soybean
stands were really good. This year, they weren’t.”
the farmers faced was amusing to Hoorman and his fellow Americans. The
Chinese said they were having trouble driving in a straight line and
following it as they were using a drill.
“We said that we never
have that problem. They asked how we rig up a marker. We looked at their
marker. It was broken, so we said, ‘Well, get rid of this,’” laughed
Hoorman. “We showed them a very simple way of putting a bar on the
tractor and dragging chain the width of the drill. You can see it from
the tractor. As long as that chain’s dragging right over the last row
that was being planted, you should be right on target to plant your next
row. Very simple things. They were amazed and very happy.”
Americans spent much of their 12-day trip designing a new research
program for the Chinese. Hoorman said they signed a long-term agreement
in which four or five Chinese students will study in a PhD program at
Ohio State University. These individuals will take what they learn back
to China to teach others to make farming more sustainable there.
turn, Hoorman said a study similar to what is happening in Chinese
agriculture will be undertaken on the OSU main campus “so that we can
contrast how it works there in China to here.”
together and we’re finding that if we can have live plants growing year
round, we can protect that soil and enhance it, making it more
productive — over time. That also solves a lot of other issues. Just
like us, they have a lot of water runoff, nutrient losses. Their rivers
and streams are full of silt, just like ours are, maybe a little worse.
They’re also losing a lot of nutrients, just like we’re losing nutrients
to Lake Erie and causing some of the phosphorus issues. Every waterway
was either brown or pure green.”
Still coughing during this
interview as a consequence of his visit, Hoorman said one of the best
parts of coming home to Ohio was accessibility to clean air and water.
He and his fellow travelers insisted on drinking bottled water in China.
He noted row upon row of trees in Beijing, the Chinese capital, planted
to combat the country’s air pollution. He said the tree leaves were
coated in soot. China is the world’s largest single emitter of carbon
dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
“The pollution was terrible,” he said. “People still wear masks in the cities.”
from his appreciation for the hospitality that he experienced in China —
“They treated us like kings,” were his words — Hoorman valued the
thrift of the Chinese people.
“They don’t waste anything,” he
said, recalling that not only did his hotel room key card get him inside
his room, it was used to turn on the electricity and air conditioning.
“If the United States ever gets that populated, we’re going to have to
really change. We waste a lot of materials.”
Hoorman does feel
lucky to live in this country. He recalled the intensity of being in
China, the sights, the sounds, and, with all the people, the smells.
was very humid, everybody is packed together,” he said. “They have over
1.2 billion people; I think we ran into about half of them.”