New farmer boosts specialty pepper with technology in central China

(Xinhua) 16:23, May 11, 2024

CHANGSHA, May 11 (Xinhua) -- When the picking season arrived, the 51-year-old Gan Zhenhua tidied his hat, slung a bamboo basket over his shoulder, and plunged into the greenhouse with over twenty workers, busily harvesting the valuable pepper.

As a resident in Zhangshu Township, Xiangyin County, central China's Hunan Province, Gan also works as the head of the Hunan Zhongyuan ecological agriculture technology development Co., Ltd., committed to pioneering the development of the local pepper industry with advanced technologies and ideas.

"The sales of pepper this year are promising. We aim to double our income with more efforts," said Gan, who calculated that the joint pepper planting area of the company and the local cooperative now reaches 560 mu (about 37.3 hectares), with an estimated annual output value of around 30 million yuan (about 4.15 million U.S. dollars).

Registered as one of the Agro-product Geographical Indications, "Zhangshugang pepper" that has been cultivated for centuries is the reason why Gan shifted from an urban white-collar worker to a new farmer four years ago.

The unique climate of the "small basin" formed by the juxtaposition of a river, two lakes, and a port, coupled with the deep tillage layer and rich microelements in the soil, has created the intense aroma and delicious taste of Zhangshugang pepper, making it the pillar industry and code of prosperity of the local area.

"When I first came back, I didn't even know how to breed seedlings or sort peppers," said Gan. Fortunately, Gan was resilient to learn from experienced farmers. After more than a year of hard work, Gan was no longer a green hand.

With solid knowledge foundation of farming, Gan decided to further the pepper planting with the use of technology, which later led him to transform his company's production base into a modern ecological agricultural park.

The greenhouses adopt green core technologies such as frequency vibrating insecticidal lamps, sticky trap boards, and pheromon traps. It has also achieved automated planting via the application of efficient drip irrigation and precise scientific fertilization, among others.

In terms of breeding, Gan cooperates with scientific research institutes to refine seeds. To ensure the quality, he has also invested in the construction of more than 100 mu of specialized greenhouses, equipped with sunshade curtains on the roof to regulate the temperature.

Gan took peppers out of the village and found cooperation with chain restaurants as he planned to broaden the sales channels. He has now cooperated with multiple restaurants, with peak daily supply reaching 250 kilograms.

As the pepper industry develops better and better, Gan has also become a well-known planting tycoon in the local area. "I have become wealthy myself and want to uplift the lives of people around me so that we share a better life together," he said.

After on-site surveys and extensive negotiation with local people, Gan established standardized production demonstration bases and recruited more than 100 households to participate, to whom he provided technical support and sales guarantees.

Fifty-year-old Shao Jianlong is one of the members of the cooperative. With only two mu of planting area, his annual income could reach around 80,000 yuan.

"Although the planting scale was large in the past, the quality was not guaranteed," said Shao, adding that Zhongyuan has provided high-quality seeds and technical support, resulting in both higher quality and price of peppers.

In 2022, 163.1 grams of Zhangshugang pepper seeds were carried by the Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft for space-induced mutation breeding. Now, the research has entered the screening and planting trial stage. With characteristics such as high yield, disease resistance, and increased vitamin content, the new breeds are expected to boost germplasm resources and iterate to improve the unique quality of Zhangshugang peppers.

According to statistics, the standardized planting area of Zhangshugang peppers this year reached 11,800 mu, and the total output value of the entire industry chain is expected to exceed 500 million yuan, which may create employment for about 12,000 people during planting, transportation, processing, and sales.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Zhong Wenxing)


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