Shanghai's first unmanned farm
Zong Shukang


China's rural development still faces many contradictions and problems, such as the decline of farmers' enthusiasm for growing grain, the increasing difficulty of farmers' continuous income increase, and the aging of rural areas increasingly serious, the recently released "2020 China Agricultural and Rural Development Report" shows.

Many experts believe the construction of "unmanned farms" can solve this kind of problem by helping reduce labor intensity and improving agricultural production efficiency, while with the rapid development of agricultural science technology and its in-depth application, unmanned farms have become an important hot spot for the country's development of modern agriculture consequently.

Shanghai planned to create 13 high-quality urban agriculture development pilot zones during the country's 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), and the first is the recently launched "digital unmanned farm" in Waigang Town, Jiading District.

Walking into the base, several harvesters were operating in the rice fields. Under the control of the staff, crops of rice were cut neatly by the harvester.

"Soon after, these workers only need to press a few buttons, and the harvester will operate automatically", Zhang Xu, deputy director of the Agricultural Service Center of Waigang Town, told reporters from several news agencies.



Shanghai's first unmanned farm's development status 

Up to now, the entire process of unmanned operation of 200 Mu (33 acres) of rice fields has been initially realized, such as rice transplanter, self-propelled sprayer and harvester, etc., and coordinated operations among different operating machines, Zhang stated.

"The base has 20,000 Mu (330 acres) of rice, of which "the green certified area" is nearly 13,000 Mu (214 acres), accounting for two-thirds of the town's rice area", said Zhang, adding that the land here is very leveled, and the facilities are complete, laying a solid foundation for large-scale operation.

"Compared with traditional agricultural operations, agricultural machinery with unmanned driving systems can save more than two kilograms of seeds per Mu (0.16 acre), increase production by about 10 kilograms per Mu (0.16 acre), and reduce fuel costs over 50 percent; The labor costs can be reduced by more than 65 percent, and land utilization rate is increased by 0.5 to one percent", said Li Ying, the deputy general manager of Shanghai Lianshi Navigation Technology Co., Ltd (The base was built together with the help of the company).

"With the help of Beidou satellite navigation and positioning, the unmanned harvester can accurately complete the grain harvesting operation, which not only improves the harvesting accuracy but also reduces the two to three percent grain loss during the harvesting process", he added.



The refitted machinery covers all stages of cultivation, planting, management, and rice production, Feng Minkang, director of the Agricultural Machinery Technology Extension Station of Jiading District, introduced to reporters.For example, in terms of "harvesting", workers can connect to an unmanned harvester with a mobile app to realize remote control and linkage operations on the harvester, he added.

"What's more, on the basis of the realization of unmanned operations, soil fertility monitoring, crop growth monitoring, crop yield monitoring, and annual operation statistical analysis and decision making, etc., will all be realized."

The future plan 

"At present, our rice planting has achieved full mechanized operations from sowing to harvesting, but there is still a long way to go to achieve the planned unmanned", said Zhang.

"There are still some shortcomings. For example, in the depth of mechanical operations, the precision requirements of the harvester are relatively high. Currently, in the process of harvesting, some manual assistance is still required."



"In the next few years, relying on new-generation information technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G, and artificial intelligence, an unmanned production operation mode of farm production and management can be completed by remotely controlling farm facilities, equipment, and machinery", said Zhang.

It is also estimated that by the end of 2022, five sets of unmanned tractors, unmanned rice transplanters, unmanned sprayers, and unmanned harvesters will each be modified to meet operational needs, and the demonstration area will be expanded to 1,600 Mu (264 acres), according to the base's report.

From 2023 to 2025, it will enter the promotion stage, and the technology and platform of the project will be promoted and applied to a scale of 10,000 Mu (165 acres) so that the project will be widely promoted and applied from demonstration research, the reports said.

Since 2004, academician Luo Xiwen, a Chinese agricultural mechanization engineering expert, and his team have researched key technologies for agricultural machinery navigation and automatic operations.

At present, China has carried out a large number of pilot applications on unmanned farms in provinces like Fujian, Jiangsu, Shandong, and other places.

China's "14th Five-Year Plan" put forward that the country will insist on solving the "three rural issues" as the top priority of the party's work and accelerate the modernization of its agriculture and rural areas.