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Growers taste sweet success from cultivation biz

By ZHAO RUIXUE in Rizhao, Shandong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-16 10:03
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Miao Ning, a blueberry orchard owner, checks the growth environment of blueberries in Chentuan town, Rizhao, Shandong province, in May. [Photo/China Daily]

Miao Ning, 38, who runs a blueberry orchard in Chentuan town in Donggang district of Rizhao, Shandong province, is familiar with every stage of the fruit's growth.

Fifteen years ago, when he was employed by an agricultural company in the town, little did Miao expect that the blueberry seedlings he planted would blossom into such a thriving industry.

These days, rows of neatly arranged blueberry bushes are spread across the expansive hilly terrain that dots Chentuan.

"At that time, our company was the first to attempt blueberry cultivation in the town," said Miao, who graduated from Weifang University in Shandong in 2008 with a master's degree in biological sciences.

His academic background equipped him with extensive agricultural knowledge in seedling cultivation and soil-related studies, which he applied effectively to blueberry cultivation.

"In the initial years after I arrived at the town, we faced challenges including a lack of infrastructure, such as roads and electricity," said Miao.

The primary industry in the town then was stone mining, he added.

Miao was unsure if the land in Chentuan could support the development of a blueberry industry. However, as he delved deeper into growing blueberries, he quickly found the answer.

Rizhao's abundant sunshine — owing to its location in the southern part of Shandong — and the sandy soil with optimal pH levels (which measure acidity or basicity) create an ideal natural environment for blueberry cultivation.

"Rizhao experiences limited rainfall in June, precisely when blueberries enter the harvesting season, ensuring a bountiful harvest," he said.

Blueberries are particularly sensitive to rain during the flowering and harvesting seasons. Rain during the flowering period hampers proper setting of the fruit, leading to reduced yields, while rainfall during the harvesting season negatively affects the picking process, Miao explained.

In addition to the favorable natural conditions, the local government has played a crucial role in promoting the blueberry industry as a means of improving the livelihoods of local farmers.

"Significant improvements have been made to the infrastructure in the town, including the construction of roads," said Miao.

The stone industry, which caused damage to the environment, has also been shut, providing a better growing environment for blueberries.

"The local government has been providing us with supportive policies such as subsidies in land use, which have facilitated the rapid growth of the blueberry industry," said Miao.

In 2014, Miao established his own company dedicated to blueberry cultivation and production, which has since become a leading agricultural enterprise in the district.

His blueberry growing base now spans over 120 hectares, providing jobs to many villagers during the peak picking season.

"When the harvest season is in full swing, we require a workforce of over 600 farmers to pick and sort the blueberries on our farm," said Miao, whose story is a testament to the remarkable potential of the blueberry industry in Chentuan.

Looking ahead, he hopes to take the blueberries to overseas markets, which can benefit not only the local economy, but also the surrounding villages.

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