Caretakers of land let villagers tend to jobs

Li Suoju has found a new way of farming to take care of her small wheat field in Huishi village, Yicheng county, Shanxi province, without disrupting her work at a restaurant in a nearby town.

Thanks to the thriving internet-based gig economy, young farmers who own small plots of land can now decide how much work they do themselves during the busy plowing season. For every 667 square meters of wheat she grows, Li usually earns no more than 400 yuan ($56), but it keeps her occupied for nearly half the year.

Using a smartphone app, Li, 35, can now pay 140 yuan to have a nearby farm machinery operator spray chemicals and weed on her 2,667 sq m field. Her husband Li Changjun works as a labor contractor in the neighboring Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Like many other villagers, the couple want the benefits of an urban lifestyle while maintaining their links to the land.

Farmers from agricultural cooperatives who own farming equipment provide the service to take care of the fields and are known as "farm nannies".

The service covers the whole farming process from supplying seeds, plowing, sowing, fertilizing and harvesting to selling produce.

Shi Xuehui, who found a job in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, has no time to take care of her 1,867 sq m wheat field in Huishi. "This makes me carefree when I work in a faraway place," Shi said.

She had thought about going back home but decided against the trip after calculating the harvest proceeds would not cover her travel expenses and lost wages.

Zhang Tianzhu, head of the county bureau of agriculture and rural affairs, said unlike transferring their land to larger planters or cooperatives, the farmers determine what is grown on their land under the gig farming model.

A total of 13,000 farmers from 21 villages in Yicheng used the service to cultivate 5,333 hectares of land last year, accounting for 14 percent of the county's total.

Meanwhile, to better safeguard farmers' incomes, an insurance policy has been introduced, which guarantees the farmers receive payments for crop failures caused by natural disasters or poor management. Each individual only has to pay eight yuan for an 80-yuan premium per 667 sq m of land, with the rest funded by the government.

This year, Yicheng will increase gig farming to ease the worries of farmers who can't tend to their land, according to the county government.