Device increases crop yields, allows farmers to avoid use of many chemicals


For the Capital Press

A new technology using steam to sterilize soil has been released recently by Taiwan's Agricultural Research Institute.

The technique allows vegetables with relatively low heat tolerance, such as cabbage, to grow to a large size rapidly. It also permits cultivation using almost no chemicals, doubling the value of the produce, the Liberty Times reported.

A year ago, the 53rd session of the Xingang Vegetable Production and Sales class in Chiayi County picked up on the ARI's "self-propelled soil steam processor" and began to use it on cabbage, which grows slowly, and on lettuce, which is prone to death from fusarium wilt.

The farmers in the class said, in comparison with fields used as controls, cabbages in areas treated with the new technique grew faster, with large, tender leaves. The flavor of the vegetables was also markedly improved. The cabbages that did not undergo the steam treatment were planted at the same time, yet grew more slowly and had smaller leaves.

The newspaper reported almost no chemicals were used on the cabbages that had been steam-treated, and their market price was twice that of ordinary cabbages.

Chih-Kai Yang, associate agricultural engineer at ARI's Agricultural Engineering Division, told Capital Press hoses from the electrically powered steam processor are placed directly on the surface of cultivated soil, with the hoses and soil then covered with rubber sheets. The steam generator is turned on and the hoses pipe the steam into the soil.

The steam is evenly through outlets in the hose.

"At the same time, the rubber sheets force the steam down to the lower soil layer," Yang said.

Generally, the operation lasts until the temperature 6 inches under the soil surface reaches 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The farmers can then sow their seeds the next day, Yang said.

Farmers were invited by the ARI to visit the Chiayi County fields and were impressed with the results. One farmer said with market demand for organic produce outstripping supply, if he could use the steam machine on his land, he could reduce the amount of chemicals he applies to his crops, thus raising the quality and price of his produce, the Times reported.

Yang told Capital Press the list price for the machine is $46,831.

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