context: As agricultural technology advances and rural labour increasingly becomes a bottleneck, policymakers are interested in the potential of automation in the farming sector. Such technologies are also promising for very large, remote tracts of farmland in Belt and Road countries like Russia and Ukraine.

A long-term field test of agricultural automation technologies including driverless tractors and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) was launched on 2 June 2018 in Xinghua city, Jiangsu. The field test will run for seven years, says Pang Chunlin 庞春霖 Telematics Industry Application Alliance (TIAA) secretary general. TIAA will oversee its operation, with guidance from Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Wang Jianyu 王建宇 MIIT deputy inspector says the integration of sensors, precision navigation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, and automation into traditional agricultural operations is accelerating. Adopting advanced technologies can help address an aging farm labour force, low production efficiency, high pollution output and low added value of ag products, says Wang.

Yan Xiaohong 颜晓红 Jiangsu University president says the field tests will bring together a range of local technologies and techniques appropriate to unique domestic soil and crop types, including paddy fields. If automation technology can be adopted in these farm environments, it will bring about ‘earth-shaking changes’ for agriculture in China and around the world, he says.

Representatives from the Ukrainian Embassy in Beijing and a Russian agtech company attended the launch event.