GUI Fujiang, a vegetable breeding expert at Shanghai Changzheng Vegetable Seed Company in Jiading, could easily have left his beloved vegetable farm in 1984, when the state requisitioned the land in his hometown and assigned them jobs in a local factory.
Back then, everybody thought being a factory worker was more comfortable and socially respectable than being a farmer.
Instead, Gui chose to continue growing vegetables at the Jiaxi Seed Farm. That year he was 40, and had been a vegetable breeding worker at Changzheng People’s Commune production team for 20 years.
Shortly after, Gui took over Shanghai Changzheng Vegetable Seed Company. The supply channels of vegetables were limited. Therefore Gui tried to breed his own.
One thing led to another. Now his Changzheng company has more than 1,500 varieties of premium-quality vegetables. Gui visited New Jersey in the United States to study advanced farming technology in 2000.
He remembers one incident especially clearly.
An American farmer introduced them to an expensive variety of Chinese cabbage called “Shanghai Green,” which was priced at 1,000 yuan (US$154) per pound. The variety originated in Shanghai was later acquired by a Japanese vegetable brand and perfected into a new breed.
“I was shocked that we didn’t see the value of the variety and somebody else beat us to it,” Gui recalled.
Upon getting back to Jiading, he immediately attempted to breed his own version of “Shanghai Green” with a higher yield and lower cost.
After multiple tryouts and failures, he eventually did it. The success was a huge milestone in his career, reminding him to keep learning and keep improving his breeding technology. While trying out different ideas and approaches, Gui enjoys looking up information in the library when he runs into problems he’s never dealt with before.
Thanks to his perseverance and forward thinking, Changzheng became the first agricultural enterprise to have a phytotron — an enclosed research greenhouse used for studying interactions between plants and the environment.
Through the phytotron, scientists can control light, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and gas composition manually. The time required for vegetables to grow is dramatically shortened.
“Normally, only state-run research institutes and the Agriculture Committee have phytotrons,” says Gui. He can’t hide the pride on his face. He hired professionals to install the 300,000-yuan (US$44,920) equipment and the phytotron was put into use in 2013.
As a farmer who didn’t receive a formal college education, Gui knows in his heart that to achieve real technological breakthrough, he has to find professionally trained young talent. Right now, the company has employed a few college graduates, some of whom studied at prestigious schools such as Huazhong Agricultural University and China Agricultural University.
“We are looking to hire two more young people. I hope they can endure the long growing period that this job needs,” says Gui. “It takes at least 10 years to cultivate a qualified vegetable breeding expert.”