Farmers in one mainland county have been ordered to leave stalks of straw no higher than 10cm in a bid to end the damaging practice of burning the stalks after the crop has been harvested.
The controversial policy was introduced by the Taihe county government in Anhui province after burning straw stalks was widely blamed for poor air quality in May and June.
The auithorities hope the shorter stalks can be ploughed back into the soil.
However, the geological conditions in the Anhui county mean cutting straw stalks so short is difficult, according to a harvest machinery operator named only as Huang.
He explained that the new rule will increase fuel consumption as machines have to track and forth to repeatedly cut the stalks.
“The cost will at least be 60 or 70 yuan higher per acre,” Huang told China National Radio. “Regular tracked harvester have to work at least twice to meet the new standard.”
Local farmers said the increase in harvesting cost means many machinery operators will not take part in the harvest of 1.52 million acres of wheat.
Huang told the radio news that there should have been 14 harvesters participating in the harvest this year – but just one day after the new rule was imposed, 11 had left for Shandong province.
“Farmers didn’t want us to leave, because once we leave, they have to do all the work manually,” said Huang.
Last week, officials from the local environmental protection bureau explained to an online forum that they would pay compensation of 20 yuan per acre, not directly to farmers, but to village governments for the higher costs involved. In addition there would be another 10 yuan for farmers.
Before the rule was imposed, the stalks were typically 20 to 30 cm tall and many farmers burned the waste.
Besides Taihe, according to China National Radio, Handan county in Hebei province also ruled that “all stalks of straw shall not be taller than 15 cm”. The county government will issue compensation to machine operators and farmers.
Online critics on Weibo called it another “unpractical” rule.
One wrote: “This is for a good purpose, but is it practical for farmers and machine operators? Don’t issue these harsh standards just for the sake of officials’ career advancement.”