China / People

Scientist helps to boost food security

By Ma Lie in Xi'an (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-22 07:56

Wheat specialist uses rigorous research to develop high-yield, high-quality hybrids

There is one simple reason Wang Hui became an agricultural scientist: he wanted his parents and fellow villagers to have enough to eat.

Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the people in the village of Yangling in Shaanxi province were always hungry because of food shortages, so "I made a decision to learn agricultural technology to provide enough food for them", Wang said.

This one desire bolstered Wang for decades while he worked to reach his goal.

Overcoming countless difficulties and setbacks, Wang dedicated most of his 47-year career to wheat, breeding 11 fine wheat varieties, including Xinong 979, a standout that produced a yield of more than 7.5 metric ton per hectare.

"Wheat is the second-largest food crop in China and is the largest food crop in North China," said Bai Yiqin, head of Shaanxi's provincial agriculture department. "We can provide protection for our country's food security by selecting a suitable high-yield and high quality variety, such as Xinong 979, for the Yellow River and Huaihe River basins, China's largest wheat production areas."

Born in 1943, Wang studied at Northwest Agricultural College, now known as Northwest A&F University, and later became a professor there.

After working on farms for five years after his graduation in 1968, he went back to the college to work as one of the three assistants to professor Zhao Hongzhang, a well-known expert on wheat breeding who died in 1994.

"I learned rigorous scientific research methods and a hard-working spirit from Zhao," Wang said.

In 1987, Wang began breeding wheat and conducting research on a plot of experimental farmland. From then on, he worked hard on the plot in addition to teaching and often paid for experimental equipment from his own salary because funds were short.

"Going out early and coming back late was his normal work routine," said Ma Guixia, Wang's wife. "During the hybridization, harvest and drying of the wheat, he did not come back for lunch. My children and I would deliver it to the fields."

During the early days of Wang's research on wheat seeds, he had no assistants and had to do everything himself, he said.

His wife helped. As a mathematics teacher in a junior middle school, Ma knew many professional terms involved in wheat breeding, such as flowering, pollination and hybridization.

The couple's four daughters, who grew up with the wheat growth cycle, often heard, "You are my children, wheat is also my child".

Wang finally bred his first variety of wheat, Xinong 84G6, in 1991. In the following years, Wang bred the other varieties, achieving many characteristics welcomed by farmers: early maturing, disease resistance, lodging resistance (a problem in which plants do not stand upright), high yields and high quality.

In 2012, Wang won the Shaanxi provincial government's top scientific and technological achievement award for his wheat variety Xinong 979.

The planting area for Xinong 84G6 was more than 335,000 hectares and Xinong 979 reached more than 1 million hectares.

Li Jiping, a farmer at Shuiquanwang village in Zhumadian, Henan province, started to plant Xinong 979 in 2006 and obtained stable yields of more than 7.5 ton per hectare. The village, with a population of 3,200 people, has about 235 hectares of farmland planted with Xinong 979.