ZHENGZHOU -- Ranging from professional training on agricultural knowledge to technical support and product sales, Chinese farmers are quickening their pace to go digital during this year's plowing season disrupted by the outbreak of coronavirus.
"On my phone, there are a dozen WeChat groups each consisting of 500 members to exchange ideas on plant varieties, and the groups for discussion on each individual breed are in the dozens," said Zhao Zhikun who heads a seedling company in central China's Henan Province.
The social media platform came in very handy for Zhao during the epidemic control period as one of his flagship seedling species normally contributing half of his annual revenue failed to sprout after being sold to local farmers in late February.
Retailers answered his inquiries right after he reached out to them on WeChat. "Several video calls facilitate us to exchange ideas and enable me to identify the crux of the problems as soon as possible," Zhao said.
According to statistics released by the China Internet Network Information Center, the number of people in rural areas capable of accessing the internet had reached 220 million in 2019 and 98.6 percent of them are mobile internet users.
Experts believe that the internet has become a good problem solver for farmers who are always eager to learn the market demand and knowledge on farming.
For agricultural enterprises that deal with farmers every day, their efforts to go digital are not restricted to online shops. The whole process of agricultural production is included, covering everything from community management, guidance on agricultural technology to smart agriculture.
"During the epidemic, we have live broadcasted nearly 700 seminars on agricultural techniques, related policies and products," said Shen Bing, chief information officer of the agricultural branch of Sinochem, China's leading operator of fertilizer, seeds and agrochemicals.
"Both our channel dealers and partners are encouraged to lean on digital marketing," Shen added. "The trend of going digital in the agricultural sector and among relevant firms will continue even after the outbreak, and it will become an indispensable part of the industry."
The epidemic outbreak has also prompted medium- and small-sized agricultural firms to give priority to sales operations online. More business players are eager to get a slice of the potentially lucrative market.
Different from previous plowing seasons, salesmen turn to livestreaming to maintain business relations and look for new customers, said Zhang Jingjing, sales manager of Shibangchem, an agro-chemical company headquartered in Shandong Province.
"Although the sale of agricultural goods is believed to be left behind compared with other sectors, our peers are all managing to utilize the internet and new media to expand the market," Zhang said.
"The internet has bridged the gap between agricultural enterprises and farmers," she added.