Each April, farmers in east China's Anhui Province toil to protect crops from pests and disease, but for those who work the wheat fields in Liuzhai Village, the job has been made a little easier with help from above.
In this village in Bozhou City, several unmanned remote-control helicopters were busy spraying pesticides over the fields.
"I cannot imagine that four helicopters finished spraying farm chemicals on 1,000 mu (66.7 hectares) of land within two hours," said Liu Baohua, a villager from Liuzhai Village.
Zhang Kunyi, the technician who controlled the helicopters, said that each helicopter can carry about 15 kilograms of pesticides to spray 20 to 25 mu of land.
Liu said it used to take farmers two days to cover that amount of land. In addition to fatigue from carrying heavy pesticides while working, farmers were often soaked in health-threatening chemicals, Liu said. The crop-dusting helicopters have not only improved farming efficiency, but also protect farmers from poisonous pesticides.
Along with Anhui, unmanned helicopters have also become popular in farming in the provinces of Hubei, Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Jiangxi since 2012, according to Zhou Liru, chairman of Bozhou City Traffic Intelligence Aviation Plant Protection Technology Co., Ltd., where the helicopters were produced.
Liu said the cost of using the helicopters is no more than that of employing locals. Farmers may use helicopters from their village agricultural cooperatives if they provide the pesticides and pay eight yuan (1.3 U.S. dollars) per mu of cropland.
As a growing number of villagers find jobs in big cities, more and more rural elderly and women have stayed at home to shoulder the responsibilities of farming, and mechanized farming has really helped these groups, Liu said.
China has vowed efforts to raise its farming mechanization rate to more than 61 percent in 2014, according to Vice Minister of Agriculture Zhang Taolin at a work conference in February.
The country will step up the implementation of subsidy policies for farm machine purchases and push forward mechanization in the production of major crops this year, according to the ministry.
China's farming mechanization rate reached 59 percent in 2013, up 2 percentage points from the previous year.