Agricultural expert benefits farmers with aeroponics

By Gu Chun (People's Daily) 10:53, March 25, 2023

In Yusangang village, Liandu district, Lishui, east China's Zhejiang province, there is an 18-meter-high greenhouse which is unique compared to other kinds.

A beehive-type structure made of rebars is seen in the greenhouse, on which a wire-mesh passage spirals up. On the two sides of the passage, rows of boxes with various types of plant roots and stems are hanging in the air.

"These are sweet potatoes," said Xu Weizhong, technical chief of facility agriculture with an academy of agricultural sciences in Lishui, lifting a well-grown root of the plant in the greenhouse, which was nearly half a meter long.

In front of the sweet potatoes stood some peach trees with shorter roots and trunks as thick as two fingers. According to Xu, these trees would yield fist-sized peaches a year later. On the top of the structure, there were also rows of giant rice that could grow to two meters high.

The stems and roots of these plants are connected to sensors, which could detect the dry humidity and inform the sprayers to various sprinkle nutrient solutions automatically. which are tailored for different plants. Solutions could be collected separately through water pipes at the box bottom and then sterilized and recycled.

Xu Weizhong checks the growth of vegetables. (Photo provided by Xu Weizhong)

"This is aeroponics. With this technology, plants can grow in the air without fertilizer or soil. The growth is managed by intelligent devices," Xu told People's Daily.

This technology has been acknowledged by many Chinese and foreign experts and scholars, and is a new method that truly helps farmers increase their income, he added.

Aeroponics is a technology of high value. Rapid propagation, a branch of aeroponics technology, is evaluated to be worth 140 million yuan.

Aeroponics has been widely applied in deserts, offshore farms and extremely cold mountainous regions, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to residents in these places. It has also made vegetable growing possible in the Sahara desert, the Alpine regions of Russia as well as other places with harsh environmental conditions.

Combining aeroponics, greenhouse facilities, computer control and other innovative technologies, Xu won the second prize of China's State Scientific and Technological Progress Award in 2009 with his project of the urban-type facility cultivation model.

After graduating from an agricultural college in Lishui in 1990, Xu started growing trees on barren hills that he contracted. He began exploring a way to realize the rapid propagation of plants through the control of temperature, humidity and lighting.

In 2001, he finally developed the non-tube rapid propagation technology. With this technology, farmers can grow over 1,000 peach trees on merely a mu of land, or around 667 square meters, which could yield fruits within a year.

The promotion of the technology brought Xu economic benefits that supported him in establishing his own research team and expanding R&D investment. His research team targeted every technology that could satisfy farmers' demands.

Agricultural technicians check the growth of vegetables grown with the aeroponics technology in Huangling village, Dacun township, Qingdao, east China's Shandong province. (Photo by Han Jiajun/People's Daily Online)

Over the recent years, he has declined offers from many research institutions and enterprises, and kept staying in his hometown, because he wants to study deeper in agricultural research.

Apart from aeroponics, he has developed many other intelligent cultivation technologies, and invented China's first domestic controlling computer for greenhouses, winning lots of certificates over the years.

Xu's aeroponics technology has benefited a lot of farmers, including Chen Binye from Guangdong province. In a phone call, the man told Xu that thanks to the technology, it's easy for Chen and his wife to cultivate crops on 100 mu of land compared to only five mu in the past, and the yield has more than tripled.

Xu provides free training for farmers every year to impart to them cultivation techniques of flowers, vegetables, fruits and grains, which has been joined by more than 10,000 people.

Xu's team has promoted aeroponics technology to the market nationwide for free. So far, the technology has been introduced to more than 3,000 enterprises and scientific institutions, and employed by over 200,000 farmers.

Xu also livestreams agricultural training on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

Yuan Longping, known as the "father of hybrid rice," is the idol of Xu. Xu said he also wants to devote his entire life to agricultural studies, so as to benefit more farmers. 

(Web editor: Cai Hairuo, Liu Ning)


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