Yuan Shougen was the first to grow navel oranges in Jiangxi province half a century ago. The farmer introduced the highly reputed variety, now known as the Gannan Navel Orange, to southern Jiangxi.
"The navel orange is like my child," he said. For 50 years, Yuan has participated in the crop's development in the province. In 1970, as an agricultural technician in Xinfeng county in southern Jiangxi, Yuan went to neighboring Hunan province to purchase tangerine seedlings to help develop the county's horticultural industry. He also secretly returned with 200 navel orange seedlings and planted them on a sunny hillside 50 meters from his house.
"That was my own decision. I heard it was a good variety, but I didn't know if it would be suitable for growing in Jiangxi, so I decided to try it out for myself," he told chinadaily.com.cn.
After three years, the trees produced their first crop. Jiangxi's climate proved suitable. The fruit was of a high quality, and soon word got around. Yuan improved cultivation techniques through practice. He got up in early morning to collect manure as fertilizer and recorded the growth of each tree.
With the support of national policies, the Gannan Navel Orange has become an important pillar of horticulture in Jiangxi. Yuan says the province is home to the largest planted area of the variety in the world and produces 1.56 million tons of the fruit worth around 68 billion yuan ($10.6 billion) each year.