Coping with extreme weather: How are Beijing's crops after heavy rain and drought?
Zhao Chenchen, Yang Yiren

Weeks ago, extreme rain battered Beijing, Tianjin and the province of Hebei due to Typhoon Doksuri in late July, causing widespread flooding and damage in a region the size of Britain. Before the red alert for rainstorms, there were weeks of high temperatures, with the highest reaching 41.1 degrees Celsius. As the harvest season approaches, how are all the farmlands doing after burning temperatures followed by sudden rainfall?

Li Weiyu, an associate professor at Beijing University of Agriculture who specializes in soybean and corn growing, visited crop fields in Tongzhou District on the outskirt of Beijing to check on the growth of soybean and corn. 

"Generally speaking, this field is doing good, except they are not of uniform height," Li said after looking at a soybean field that belongs to the 134 hectares of joint-managed farmland in Xiji Town, Tongzhou District.

She noted that the soybeans are growing too fast during the reproductive stage as a result of too much precipitation. Li added that it's time to apply some uniconazole, a type of plant growth regulator, to make plants more robust, grow more flowers and produce more pods.

According to Li, farmlands in districts north and east of Beijing were not affected by rainstorms, as they were warned to dig gutters in advance. But post-rainfall management is crucial to ensure crop yields.

Li said the most important thing to do after rain is timely tillage and weed control. Plant protection measures are also needed, as plants may encounter disease outbreaks from insect pests. 

Li's colleague, Shang Qiaoxia, who specializes in plant protection, detected whiteflies and leaf miners on some plants and emphasized the importance of weeding and spraying pesticides in time. 

The college professors constantly visit farmlands in Beijing on a voluntary basis, allowing the two sides to communicate together, identify issues and advise on measures in advance. However, the weeks of high temperatures before the downpour dried out the soil, causing droughts never seen in the area. 

During a previous trip to the crop fields, Li found that the soil's surface temperature had reached 71 degrees Celsius.

"We've advised the farmers to irrigate the fields, but they are unwilling to consider the labor cost," Li said.

Farmers' dilemma

CGTN met with Geng Guozhu, the manager of the company that jointly manages the farmland. He said the town is surrounded by natural water sources on three sides, and the surface dampness is usually abundant. 

"Under extreme drought like this year's, our well is running out of water," Geng said. 

He explained that he couldn't get more water, as their current wells are only 30 to 40 meters deep, and he wished to renovate the wells to reach depths of 100 meters for more water withdrawal next year.

The lack of irrigation affected the emergence period for both soybean and corns this year. And if the wildly growing weeds are not eradicated in time, Li and Shang are deeply concerned about the final yield.

But weeding and spraying pesticides require additional labor, which is costly.

"If I can get 1,000 kuai ($137) for either one mu (0.07 hectare) of corn or soybean, why would I spend more on soybean fields for irrigation and pesticide when I could just do nothing for the corns?" Geng said.

Combating the extreme weather for agriculture

The World Meteorological Organization tracks and documents extreme weather events each year, and its State of the Global Climate 2022 report found that climate change is causing events such as drought, floods and heat waves to increase.

"Climate change is expected to cause more frequent and intense extreme temperatures, storms, floods and droughts each year, adding uncertainty to food production," a research topic in Frontiers magazine emphasized.

In combating extreme weather for agriculture, more proactive action is required for both farmers and scientists.

Li said she is working on selecting the material and breeding soybean and corn with broad-spectrum resilience. As for growing techniques, she hopes to promote composting and drip irrigation to ensure a stable crop yield.

Videographer: Qi Jianqiang

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