Improvements in agricultural technologies and techniques to ensure sector's overall growth highlighted by government research projects.
As an old Chinese proverb goes, "one year's plan lies in spring". With this in mind, farmers and rural officials in North China's Shanxi province are busy preparing for this year's farming activities.
Sun Jingmin, head of the Shanxi Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said this year's farming plan will focus on agricultural modernization, including the use of farming machines and new techniques for improving operational efficiency.
Sun made the remarks at a work conference for Shanxi's spring farming operations on Feb 6.
"We are requiring agricultural officials at various levels to make field surveys on the conditions of farms and the status of existing farming machines to ensure smooth farming operations," the official said.
In the county of Ruicheng, officials deem that preparing for an anticipated drought, improving soil moisture and nutrition, and preventing crop diseases resulting from drought and pests are crucial for this year's harvest.
Li Fengchao, an official at the Ruicheng agriculture and rural affairs bureau, said: "Drought is commonly seen in spring in Shanxi where there is less precipitation than in other seasons, and this year is no exception."
He added that drought can result in the loss of moisture and nutrition in soil, as well as the rampant growth of pests.
"We are dispatching agricultural technicians to crop fields in order to study the soil conditions, the growth of pests and to offer guidance for preventing potential risks," Li said.
The official said that one solution his bureau offers to farmers is the simultaneous irrigation and fertilizing technique.
"Our researchers find that irrigation and fertilizing are not techniques where the method of 'the more the better' can be applied," Li said. "So we have developed the simultaneous irrigation and fertilizing technique to use the right proportion and amount of water and fertilizers to ensure a better soil condition and a better environment for crops' growth."
The county of Ruicheng currently has more than 32,700 hectares of winter-sowed wheat. "We are glad to see that the crops are in good condition," Li said.
The official said there are a total of 190 large crop-care machines in place to ensure the crop's better growth.
In addition, the county's 230-plus farming supplies outlets have set aside 14,135 metric tons of fertilizers, 120 tons of pesticides and 343 tons of crop seeds for this year's farming activities.
The official added that the county's farming modernization drive is also supported by 3,200-plus farming machines, including 1,200 large and medium-sized tractors and more than 1,800 plowing and sowing machines.
Machine-aided farming is now popular throughout rural Shanxi.
In the village of Dongping in Datong city's Yunzhou district, farmer Ma Yuchang got up early on the morning of Feb 2 to test his tractor that has been sitting idle for about two months.
"Despite the fact that it has been in 'hibernation' for two months, it is still in good condition because of our constant care," Ma said.
Ma's plan for this year is to grow cash crops like daylily and chilli, as well coarse cereals.
Wang Meizhen, Party secretary of Dongping, said the village is planning to develop itself into a base for daylily, chilli and cereals.
Daylily is a popular food ingredient nationwide and Datong is a major production base of the crop nationally with a planting history of hundreds of years.
Datong is also a major grain producer in Shanxi. It plans to grow 335,600 hectares of crops this year, including 281,300 hectares of grains.
To ensure a bumper harvest, Datong's agricultural authorities are offering comprehensive services to farmers, including developing a smooth supply channel of farming machines and materials, holding training sessions for farmers on how to use the machines and master new techniques, as well as granting subsidies to farmers for buying farming machines.
Mechanized farming is also popular in the city of Linfen. The city is now home to nearly 55,000 farming tractors and 111,700 other modern farming tools. Local mechanics are busy taking care of the machines to make sure that most of them can be used for farming in the coming spring, according to officials at the city's agricultural and rural affairs bureau.
Pingshun, a county in the southeast of Shanxi, is a traditional producer of hairy asiabell, a medical herb.
Despite its large planting area and good quality, the industry still suffers from low efficiency due to the lack of adequate farming machines.
But local officials are now trying to solve this problem.
On Feb 2-3, a delegation of Pingshun's agricultural officials and technicians paid a visit to a farming machine manufacturer in Shangqiu, a city in neighboring Henan province.
"We were informed that this company is producing and supplying farming machines for medical herbs like hairy asiabell," said Shen Lifang, a Pingshun official. "The company's demonstration of the machine shows that it can improve efficiency by five to eight times."
The delegation signed a letter of intention with the company and the machines are expected to be used in Pingshun in the near future, according to Shen.
Wang Xiujuan contributed to this story.