"Chinese greenhouses provided steady supply of vegetables"

The Chinese vegetable industry has suffered the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic for more than two months now. People are paying close attention to market conditions and vegetable supplies from production areas near Beijing.

Mr. Li, a spokesperson for a vegetable producer in Changping district of Beijing, recently talked about vegetable production and sales conditions for farmers in the Beijing area during the outbreak of the corona virus, as well as the measures they took to ensure a steady vegetable supply and protect the people's health.

"Domestic market demand for vegetable has rapidly increased since the initial outbreak of the corona virus in January. The municipal government in Beijing encouraged farmers in the area to improve the efficiency of their greenhouses in an attempt to speed up the rotation of crops. Greenhouse farmers did their utmost to speed up the production of leaf vegetables in particular. For example, they expanded the surface area devoted to the plantation of bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and spinach. The surface area devoted to leafy vegetables plantation in our farm in Xiaotangshan town has increased by 20% in comparison with the same period last year," said Mr. Li.

"Some freshly harvested fruits and vegetables became nearly impossible to sell in the middle of February. Take strawberries for example, The peak of the strawberry harvest season normally falls between January and March. Nearly 80% of the strawberry harvest from Changping struggled with poor sales in February. This is on the one hand because traffic was restricted, which disrupted distribution of agricultural products. Furthermore, the transport sector suffered from a shortage of available personnel. The delivery volumes from e-commerce platforms and community sales channels declined during this period.

"On the other hand, almost an entire harvest of strawberries was left to spoil because there were barely any visiting traders to purchase them. When the spread of COVID-19 was gradually brought under control in China, media widely reported on the state of affairs in the agricultural industry, and e-commerce platforms slowly began to recover. Only then did the unmarketable conditions of fruit improve. The conditions of vegetables similarly improved. The government introduced a series of supportive measures to help out major vegetable producers across the country. Vegetables luckily did not suffer extensive consequences from unmarketable conditions," said Mr. Li. "The price did not show a significant increase during the last few weeks because the government strictly controlled the price of agricultural products during the COVID-19 epidemic. The price is more or less the same as around this time last year."

When asked about agricultural installations in the wider Beijing area, Mr. Li replied: "The main installations include large plastic covers, glass houses, and connected greenhouses. The majority of vegetable production still takes place under plastic covers and in glass houses, because they are cheap to construct and do not require personnel to have a high level of technological skill. However, the efficiency of glass houses depends on weather conditions. In addition, glass houses suffered from a shortage of personnel. The glass houses in the Beijing area were only staffed at 60%. Many glass houses suffered from plant disease and insect pests, because they did not have enough personnel to treat the vegetables in time. Furthermore, the rotation of crops slowed down because of the lack of personnel as well. Vegetable production under plastic covers generally starts only in March, which means the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic was relatively small."

"The construction cost of connected greenhouses is higher and the initial investment is paid out over a longer period of time, but the growth conditions in greenhouses are far steadier than under plastic covers or in glass houses. Connected greenhouses produce vegetables with an even and high level of product quality. Furthermore, greenhouses continue to operate even when understaffed or when the sun is not shining. Greenhouses therefore offered a steadier and faster supply of vegetables during the COVID-19 epidemic. For example, 3 hectares of connected greenhouses produced around 3 tons of vegetables per day for the last several weeks," said Mr. Li.


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