Field projects


Capacity Building in Forage Seed Production in Xinjiang Autonomous Region,
People's Republic of China


Xinjiang is one of the five major pastoral areas in China, with a total area of 57.3 M ha (available area 48.0 M ha) and a long history of animal husbandry, which is both economically and culturally important. Because of the favourable environment it is an area rich in forage germplasm resources. In particular, Xinjiang has a long history of alfalfa cultivation and over time farmers have accumulated considerable experience in alfalfa cultivation which has promoted the development of animal husbandry in Xinjiang. By the end of 1998, alfalfa growing occupied 0.15 M ha, or some 4 percent of the total cultivated area.

Alfalfa seed production was very promising in the seventies and early eighties when more than ten forage seed bases were set up in Hetian, Altai, Changji, Urumqi and Bayinguoleng etc, with a total area of 80,000 mu (approx. 5,405 ha). Seed production from several varieties of alfalfa such as Xinjiang Big Leaf alfalfa, Northern Xinjiang alfalfa and Variegate alfalfa not only met the demands of Xinjiang, but also 100 tons were exported to other provinces. Also, some superior alfalfa varieties such as Xinmu No. 1 and Xinmu No. 2 were bred and contributed to the development of animal husbandry production and the economy in Xinjiang.

Unfortunately, at the end of the eighties, alfalfa seed production in Xinjiang went into a serious decline because of the production systems, a lack of well trained staff, inappropriate management and infestation by the parasitic weed dodder (Cuscata sp.). To date most of the seed bases have stopped production and the present seed capacity is insufficient to meet the increasing demands of animal husbandry development in Xinjiang. Each year Xinjiang can provide only about 100 tons of fodder seeds and large amounts of alfalfa seed (800 - 1000 tons) has to be imported from other provinces. Much is of poor quality and many of the varieties are not suitable, being poorly adapted to the cold winter conditions in Xinjiang. The quality of the alfalfa pasture areas has been affected and the economic benefit from the improved pasture areas is reduced, which has restricted the development of animal husbandry in Xinjiang. As Xinjiang has plans to establish some 33 000 ha of new pasture land each year (as well as improving 33 000 ha of the existing pasture areas), there is a total seed requirement of from 1 000 - 1 500 tons per year, most of which cannot be met from present local production. Urgent action is required to improve the local seed supply situation which will contribute to the more rapid development of the animal husbandry industry in Xinjiang.

At this stage most of the prefectures in Xinjiang do not have the personnel with the appropriate technical skills in establishing and running seed production bases and in producing high quality seed for farmers. For example, the alfalfa growing area in Altai Prefecture is more than 20 000 ha, yet there is no local seed production base. In view of this, the People's Republic of China requested immediate FAO assistance within the framework of the FAO Technical Cooperation Programme.

In 1998 the Ministry of Agriculture approved the establishment of a superior forage seed base in Jimusaer County, Changji Prefecture by Xinjiang Animal Husbandry Bureau. With an initial area of 66.7 ha (crop growing area of 54 ha) this had the potential for expansion to 200 ha. The land was flat and dodder free. The area has an annual frost-free period of 160 days with annual precipitation of 180.1 mm. Some 2.6 million Yuan had already been invested and irrigation structures, buildings, electricity, water, heating and storage facilities are in place. What was lacking was trained personnel and advanced technology and equipment.

With the TCP assistance it was expected that a seed production base would be established and technical personnel and farmers would receive training in the production, cleaning, processing  and packaging of high quality seed (mainly alfalfa), free of dodder and other weeds. As well as demonstrating the establishment of a base for the production of superior quality alfalfa seed it was expected that the project would result in the recovery and improvement of the alfalfa seed production system and the foundation of a superior forage breeding programme. This should improve the availability of seed, expedite the establishment of larger areas of good quality alfalfa for fodder and promote the development of the animal husbandry economy of Xinjiang.


The main objective was to build the necessary technical capacity in forage seed production in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, through the establishment and operation of a small seed production base, so that certified seed could be provided to Kazak farmers.


The six main expected outputs were:

  • key technical personnel trained in the establishment and operation of a seed production base;
  • a 66.7 ha seed production base established in Jimusaer County in Changji Prefecture; 
  • high quality seed of alfalfa and other fodder crops available for the establishment of improved pastures in Xinjiang;
  • information available on seed production costs and approaches to marketing and distribution of seeds;
  • selected farmers trained in seed production techniques ready for the extension of seed production to contract farmers in the expansion phase;
  • a plan prepared for the expansion of the seed production base to 200 ha


  • The first consultants were fielded in June and July 2000 and a study tour was undertaken by 3 project staff to Montana USA in October 2000. Equipment was purchased. Due to the delayed start of the project only a small autumn crop was sown in 2000 and seed was harvested in July/August 2001. The main 2001 crop was established in August 2001 and further visits by consultants took place in the period July-August 2001. Final visits were undertaken in May/June 2002.
Introduction of Staff and consultant at Xinjiang Livestock Bureau In the field Autumn sowing The project site
Foundation Seed field
of Xinmu No.1
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Lead consultant Dr. Dennis Cash from Montana
State University, USA
Trial run with the sprinkler irrigation system
at Jimsaer Farm
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Project consultants and Xinjiang
Agricultural University staff
Final project review in Urumqi 2002


- key personnel from the Animal Husbandry Bureau in Urumqi, Xinjiang Agricultural University, Xinjiang General Grassland Centre and Hutubi Stud Farm were trained in the establishment and operation of a successful alfalfa seed production base, seed harvesting, processing and quality testing.
- the alfalfa seed production base has been established at Jimsaer Farm in Changji Prefecture. Poor irrigation facilities and slower than anticipated uptake of new technologies delayed bringing the full farm area into good seed production. Seed was harvested from about 13 hectares in 2001. In 2002, seed will be harvested on about 35 hectares. It was expected that the full area will be planted in 2002, and be in full production in 2003.
- the initial 1 ton of seed harvested in 2001 was free of dodder and other weeds and after processing was good quality seed for commercial planting, thus achieving one of the main objectives which was to produce dodder free seed.
- of the 30 participants trained in the project, three individuals are employed by large project farms actively growing alfalfa seed for their own forage planting purposes; two individuals trained are now responsible for a 660-hectare seed base in Hejing County; and also Xinjiang Agricultural University staff who participated in training are now developing their own seed production programme with contract farmers, so there is likely to be a considerable multiplier effect in terms of trainees training other farmers.
- initially, alfalfa seed production was intended to be expanded to a portion of a newly-reclaimed farm near Jimsaer to increase the overall alfalfa area to 200 hectares. However, as salinity levls were still too high the major expansion will now take place in Hejing County, about 430 km southwest of Urumqi where it was expected that alfalfa would be established in August 2002 on about 140 hectares previously cropped with wheat.
- the project produced a manual entitled "Production of Alfalfa Seed in Xinjiang"; it was recommended that all personnel continuing work with the seed fields established during the FAO project or in the future PRC projects use this manual as a reference. Further, as the alfalfa seed area in Xinjiang expands, the manual will be useful for training alfalfa seed farmers.
- given the close working relationships developed between institutes during the project it was recommended that the Xinjiang Animal Husbandry Bureau and the Grassland Centre continue to collaborate with the Xinjiang Agricultural University to ensure future success in alfalfa seed production.
- more accurate cost data is still needed and it was recommended that the Bureau of Animal Husbandry and Xinjiang Agricultural University collect appropriate data in due course on the various costs involved and income derived so that accurate cost-profit analyses can be undertaken.

Alfalfa Cultivar Trials
Follow up trials were carried out at Xinjiang Agricultural University to compare eight (8) alfalfa cultivars - MT-2, MT-146, MT-328 and MT-335 (all from Montana, USA) and XM-1 (control), XM-3, Big Leaf and KS220-97 (all from Xinjiang, China)


An important aspect of the project has been that as well as staff from the Bureau of Animal Husbandry, staff from Xinjiang Agricultural University attended all training courses and derived considerable benefit, implementing the newly acquired skills and utilizing new information to rapidly expand their own seed production areas. This was an additional indirect project output not originally foreseen and should contribute considerably to a rapid increase in the production of good quality alfalfa seed in Xinjiang. The University and University-supervised farms are capable of seed yields in excess of 1,000 kg/ha. The project has had a positive impact on alfalfa seed production in Xinjiang. Foundations have been laid and expansion is already taking place both through additional Government inputs and also through other sectors such as Xinjiang Agricultural University and also through cooperation between the University and various partners, including contract farmers. Project training and consultancy visits have benefitted various seed production enterprises now underway. In excess of 300 ha of seed production bases are already in production (with another 400-500ha to be established in August 2002), high seed yields are being obtained both at the University Farms and in co-operative ventures, links with contract farmers are being initiated by the University, additional alfalfa cultivars are being evaluated, and seed of the new cultivar Xinmu No. 3 should soon become available. The Government has made a major commitment to new seed bases (as well as closing some existing seed production areas in Altai where seed contaminated with dodder (Cuscata sp.) has been produced in the past) as seen particularly in the development of the new 660 ha Hejing Farm already underway, some 430 km from Urumqi where under the Government's Western China Development Policy for expansion of the seed bases in Xinjiang funds have been made available and equipment was already on site and planting was due to take place in August 2002. Various other farms were established and seed was sent for processing at the central processing facility at the Grassland Centre in Urumqi, where again additional Government funds were provided for the purchase of commercial-scale seed processing equipment. Also, largely as a result of the impetus created by the project, it was understood that the Government will make available funds to the Xinjiang Agricultural University for the breeding of new alfalfa cultivars. Overall the project had both a considerable catalytic as well as a multiplier effect.