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New Money 2011/05/29 Ordinary corn plants producing extraordinary seeds

05-29-2011 13:26 BJT


We are all familiar with corn, but perhaps you've never seen corn in such an array of colors. 

Take a look at the corn on the screen. Aren't they striking? In this edition of New Money, our story begins with them. This corn is named Super Corn No.1, and for very good reason. If it was to be grown in all the cornfields across China, the country’s corn output would increase by a minimum of 50 percent. The farmer of the corn is named Li Denghai, and he hails from Shandong province.

Denghai Seeds Company is based in the Laizhou Bay of Shandong province, covering an area of nearly 100 square kilometers. The huge corn empire is founded on these grains of corn. You may not know who Li Denghai is. But you probably know Yuan Longping. What’s the connection between Yuan Longping and Li Denghai?

Yuan Longping is the “father of hybrid rice”, and Li Denghai is regarded as China’s “father of hybrid corn”. He is referred to in the Chinese agricultural saying: “Yuan of the south, Li of the north.” There are a lot of things that associate them together. For example, in China, only three stocks were named after individuals.

Lansheng was listed on the market in 1994. Longping High Tech, which was named after Yuan Longping, went public in 2000. In 2005, Denghai Seeds, which was named after Li Denghai, gave an IPO. In the Asia Pacific region’s seed breeding industry, Li Denghai, who is a farmer, enjoys equal fame with Yuan Longping, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As a farmer, how did Li Denghai achieve so much?

In September 1949, Yuan Longping entered Chongqing Xianghui College’s to study Agronomy, starting a lifetime bond with rice. In the same year, at a fishing village in Shandong’s Laizhou Bay, a couple welcomed the birth of their third child. The father hoped the boy would find a living on the sea when he grew up, so he named the boy Denghai. However, Li Denghai first learned how to farm rather than fish.

Li Denghai, Chairman of Shandong Denghai Seeds Co., Ltd, said, "My mother is a woman with bound feet. So she couldn’t go farming. I went to work in the fields."

From 1959 to 1961, when natural disasters plagued the country, hunger became the most vivid childhood memory of Li Denghai.

"At that time, I had to push the millstone myself. Sometimes, my mother pushed the millstone, while I pulled it. And then I would say “let me do this”. I milled around, and when I was hungry, I would take some grains of corn to eat. The memory is still fresh. I ate the grains as I pushed the millstone. I felt faint after milling around. It was a really hard time." Li Denghai said.

In Shandong’s Laizhou, corn is a major crop. The local people live on corn throughout the year. Given that the yield was not high; corn would become rare and precious whenever a natural disaster befell the region.

"At the people’s commune, corn buns could be purchased with food coupons. I took coupons to buy corn buns. The coupon could only buy 100 grams. But a corn bun weighed 200 grams. So it was cut into four pieces, and I took two pieces. One was for my mother, and another was mine. A grandpa who was our neighbor had no food. So I gave mine to him, and asked him to eat it. My mother had just a piece of corn bun for lunch, which was about 50 grams. And there was nothing for supper." Li said.

During that period of time, it became a luxury for Li Denghai to eat corn buns.

"I ate barks, grass roots, dried potatoes, corn stalks, weeds, waterweeds and even leaves. I know the importance of food security." Li told us.

For many years, the output of corn was no more than 2.25 tons per hectare in Laizhou. In the 1950s, many villages in Laizhou set up their own research teams, with the aim of raising the yield of corn through scientific methods. Joining the research team was Li Denghai’s childhood dream.

Li Denghai said, "Chairman Mao said the rural area is a vast field, and there is much scope for one’s capability. I was very concerned about how to develop my hometown, and how to increase the agricultural output."

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