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40,000 acres of fiber hemp fuels China’s ‘one county, one industry’ strategy

Drones spray fertilizer on Chinese hemp crops.
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Qinggang County in China’s Heilongjiang Province expects to harvest hemp from 40,000 acres (~16,200 hectares) in 2021 as the government increases its support for development of high-tech solutions in the world’s capital of hemp textile production.

The planting area for ​​industrial hemp in Qinggang county has steadily grown from 1,500 acres (~607 hectares) in 2016 to feed a robust field-to-shelf industrial supply chain. Qinggang County officials say 6,600 acres (~2,600 hectares) of hemp were planted for research purposes alone in the county this year.

Heilongjiang Province accounts for half of the world’s production of hemp fiber, and Qinggang County makes 70% of that output; all hemp yarns exported from Heilongjiang Province come from Qinggang, according to provincial officials.

Doubling down on hemp

Now the national government is doubling down in the county, aiming to make it a prototype “one county, one industry” model that will accelerate high-quality development of the hemp fiber sectors. The National Hemp Industry Technology System (NHITS) and the Qinggang Agricultural Center are working jointly on a number of initiatives in cultivation, textiles and a wide range of applications for hemp hurd.

Most recently NHITS’s Harbin Hemp Test Station and the Qinggang ag center jointly deployed drones with AI-based binocular vision technology to spray fertilizer on hemp crops. The technology can enhance the growth of fiber hemp and improve disease resistance through what the Chinese call a “world leading” mist spray nozzle that saves 15% of the fertilizer comparing to traditional application methods. The partners have also carried out a comparative test of fine fiber varieties and a demonstration of high-yield cultivation techniques in Qinggang. 

Key developments

The county also:

  • expanded its fleet of large-scale precision planters, unmanned plant protection technology; and self-propelled harvesters to a total of 120 sets;
  • now boasts five long-hemp spinning operators;
  • added a new short hemp textile production line;
  • reached 60,000 spindles in textile processing capacity;
  • started up factories to turn out particle board and pallets from fiber hemp material.

Meanwhile, research continues into high-quality fiber hemp varieties, pest control, disease prevention, and retting techniques, the county said.

Heilongjiang province has embarked on massive research and development efforts to make fine hemp fibers a large-scale alternative to cotton, aiming to overcome environmental problems caused by cotton’s enormous need for water, and by soil salinization and pesticides.

Public, private support

A comprehensive research program involving universities from Heilongjiang Province and partners from the Ukraine and Canada is developing high-yield hemp varieties, optimizing combine harvesters for stalks and seeds, and introducing bio-tech methods that allow production of hemp textile fibers in an environmentally friendly way using enzymes; the fibers can then be processed alone or together with other fibers on existing cotton gins.

Heilongjiang’s efforts have not only attracted attention and support from Chinese government and scientists, but some of the biggest investment funds in China are also placing private money in the sector. Also, the province is welcoming to foreign partners and continues to seek out deals in Europe and the USA.

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