A Chinese research team on Friday launched an ambitious program of planting 100,000 mu (about 6,667 hectares) of rice in saline-alkali soil across the country.
The program, led by Yuan Longping, a renowned agronomist dubbed China's "father of hybrid rice," includes about 60,000 mu of rice to be planted in three cities in East China's Shandong province, and about 40,000 mu in seven bases in regions of Shaanxi, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Zhejiang.
On Friday, workers started planting rice seedlings in saline-alkali soil in Qingdao and Weifang in Shandong, Wenzhou in East China's Zhejiang province, and in Golmud in Northwest China's Qinghai province.
"Other places will soon begin planting rice seedlings as well," said Zhang Guodong, deputy director of Qingdao's saline-alkali tolerant rice research and development center, which is led by Yuan.
Yuan's team successfully developed types of saline-alkali tolerant rice in 2017 and the highest yield reached 620.95 kg per mu.
Last year, the researchers piloted growing rice in saline-alkali soil in six bases across China, with the total testing areas amounting to 20,000 mu and the average yield reaching over 500 kg per mu.
"We expect the average yield could reach 400 kg per mu this year, given that we can't implement fine management in such large areas," said Zhang.
"If we succeed, the 100,000 mu of saline-alkali soil, which used to be barren land, will produce 40,000 tonnes of rice for Chinese people," he added.
Last year, the team planted rice on 1,000 mu of saline-alkali soil in Qingdao, and the ecological environment has been greatly improved there.
"We spotted some water birds this year and the area even started to draw tourists," said Zhang Xue, a researcher in the team.
This year, the team will try intelligent agriculture on 10,000 mu of saline land in Qingdao. Aided by data from smart sensors and cameras, the artificial intelligence agricultural system will provide accurate amounts of water and fertilizer for the rice.
The team has also selected suitable hybrid rice strains for all major types of saline-alkali soil in China, except for the one in Golmud.
"Golmud is located at 2,780 meters above sea level. It is the first time for us to plant the saline-alkali tolerant rice in cold and plateau areas," said Zhang Xue. "We will plant about 200 types of rice this year and see which specific types of rice are the most suitable for such areas."
"Yuan's team has made some remarkable achievements, many of which reached a leading level at home and abroad," said Peng Jiming, an expert at the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center.
"This year, we will plant 100,000 mu of saline-alkali tolerant rice and transform one million mu of saline-alkali soil. We will also strive to launch a 10-million-mu program," Yuan said in a video message.
In the long run, the team aims to turn 100 million mu of saline land into arable land, and to increase rice production to feed 80 million more people.