Winter is the favorite season of farmers in Tongnan county because the mild Southwest China winters bring them good prices for their vegetables while most fields in North China are covered with snow.

But summer is difficult because they have to cope with excessive market supply.

“Last summer the purchase price of radish was only 0.3 yuan (about 5 US cents) a kilogram,” said Zhu Xiwu, head of the county’s Shuangba village, a major vegetable growing center. “Tons of radishes were abandoned in the field.”

Tongnan, in Chongqing, is China’s second-largest county-level vegetable producer, harvesting more than 1.6 million metric tons of vegetables annually.

More than 15 kinds of vegetables are grown in the county, including eggplants, Korean radish, kidney bean, cabbage, green pepper and bitter melon.

The farmers would have fewer risks in producing such large crops if they had refrigerated warehouses, because vegetables have to be refrigerated to be transported and sold to other provinces.

The farmers can also keep the vegetables in cold storage when the prices are not good.

With this in mind, Tongnan county authorities began a program this year to encourage farmers to build refrigerated warehouses by providing a 100,000 yuan subsidy – a quarter of the cost – for structures capable of storing 100 tons of vegetables.

As of September, 15 warehouses had been built. But that is far from enough, because Tongnan has more than 80,000 households that grow vegetables.

Zhu Xiwu estimated that his village of Shuangba alone needs at least another 12 refrigerated warehouses.

“Funding is a major problem,” he said. “Farmers are generally willing to take on just half the cost, but the government subsidies cover only about one-fourth.

“Maybe the government could consider raising its investment.”

The county has far fewer refrigerated warehouses than there are in some vegetable growing counties in other provinces, said Jing Bo, deputy director of the county’s vegetable industry development bureau.

“Refrigeration is a crucial part of the vegetable industry if we want to further expand our retail chains,” Jing said.

With a refrigerated warehouse, Cheng Dengke, a farmer with more than 33 hectares of vegetable crops, could sell his produce to Beijing, Tianjin and other northern cities, especially during summer.

In the past 15 years, vegetable farming in Tongnan has expanded from 133 to 53,300 hectares. But the expansion of retail channels has not kept pace.

In summer, most of the produce is sold in Chongqing and neighboring Sichuan – markets farther away are impractical because of the high temperatures and shortage of refrigerated facilities. Only in winter can the vegetables be sold in North China, said Liu Qiao, who is in charge of marketing at the county’s vegetable industry development bureau.

Only 80,000 tons of the county’s yearly 1.6 million tons of produce were refrigerated before being sold, according to a study by Southwest University in Chongqing and the vegetable industry development bureau.

The research also pointed out that the shortage of refrigeration facilities is connected with a lack of a vegetable processing industry in the county, which further restrains the development of the vegetable industry.

Jing said the county government lacks the funding to increase its support for refrigerated facilities. “Tongnan is a county with limited fiscal income. Currently, we rely on the financial support of the higher authorities to develop refrigerated warehouses and transport chains,” he said.

Source: China Daily Oct 2012

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