Grain that made plain soil arable once again
The humble oat, a grain associated with Swiss muesli and its richness in nutrients, is helping to transform barren and alkaline soil in the city of Baicheng, in northeastern China’s Jilin province.
Alkaline soil is notoriously difficult to farm, as it is predominantly composed of clay with a poor soil structure and a pH level greater than 8.5.
China has 100 million hectares of alkaline soil, according to scientist Yuan Longping, who is often referred to as “the father of hybrid rice”.
Ren Changzhong, a Chinese scientist who specializes in the study of the germination of oat and buckwheat, has been using the grains to improve and restructure the soil in Baicheng so that it can be used to farm a greater variety of crops.
The success comes after years of experimentation, as well as sharing research with scientist Vernon Burrows from the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Ministry.
Since the 1960s, Burrows has been crossbreeding Chinese oats and Canadian oats to create a stronger alkaline-resistant grain. The resulting product he created was named the dragon oat.
Burrows visited Baicheng in 1999 and took part in discussions with Ren, who later visited Canada to share in his research. On his return, Ren carried with him two boxes of dragon oats developed by Burrows.
Using dragon oats as a starting point for his future experiments, Ren set out to make a hybrid grain that would be better suited to the cold and dry climate of northern China.
In Ren’ s study, he discovered the oats were extremely drought and alkaline resistant, as well as being capable of improving the structure and pH levels of sandy soil after repeated germination cycles.
After 5-10 years of continuous planting in light and moderately alkaline soil, pH levels were found to have fallen to below 8.5, meaning other crops could be grown, such as corn.
Ren and his team also created a hybrid grain that can be harvested twice a year instead of once, making output for local farmers increase by 50 percent.
In 2016, the Baicheng government announced that it plans to introduce the oats developed by Ren into a local well-known brand in collaboration with companies at home and abroad.
“To receive such an honor is a great encouragement to us,” said Ren, adding that he will continue to promote the commercialization of scientific research.
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(China Daily 06/15/2018 page10)
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