The farmland hasn't been this dry in years. Almost all the tender stalks of his winter wheat have turned yellow, but Zhu Xueguang seems in no hurry to take action. 'It's still OK. I'll see what I can do when the weather turns warmer,' said Mr Zhu, 43, sitting on the roadside by his land, lighting a cigarette. In tiny Wangshi village in Hebei, about 200km south of Beijing, most residents appeared to share Mr Zhu's patience. Even though the state has called for a large-scale drought-fighting campaign across the farming areas in northern China, the farmers say they won't go back to work until the start of the second month of the lunar calendar, which is later this month. Years of experience tell them that watering the wheat when the weather is still cold could do more harm to the crops than leaving them alone. To prove his point, Mr Zhu dug into the land with his bare hands. 'The land is still frozen now, so watering it now would be like poisoning one's food,' he said. Xu Yonghui, another farmer, said that although droughts in other years, such as 2006, were about as bad, farmers would still not leave their houses in lunar January. 'We are not lazy, but we know any farm work in January will be a waste of time,' he said. Hebei, and specifically Cangzhou, have been mentioned in national and provincial media as regions that have been severely affected by the once-in-30-years drought, which is sweeping the wheat-growing areas in as many as 12 provinces and municipalities in the north. Villagers in these areas usually plant winter wheat in late October and leave it alone until the first round of irrigation starts in March. They say the yellow leaves on the stalks will turn green and produce fruit by harvest time in late spring. Mr Zhu's point about irrigation makes sense to Sun Yuzhong, who lives in Taozhuangzi village about 50km away. Mr Sun's 0.3 hectares of winter wheat were irrigated by a maintenance crew watering a newly paved county road nearby. Only a small parcel survived the unexpected winter irrigation, and the crew had promised to compensate Mr Sun's losses at a fair market price. 'They effectively turned my land into an ice field. Nothing could survive that, I guess,' he said. Hebei's official newspaper, the Hebei Daily, reported that rainfall in Cangzhou had dropped 91 per cent this winter from a year ago, putting all of the city's 366,000 hectares of winter wheat under the threat of drought. It said all level of governments in Cangzhou had started an emergency plan to pump underground water to irrigate thirsty lands. A farmer surnamed Wang could only laugh after hearing the news, saying only those who have never been to Cangzhou's farmlands could figure out such a grand rescue plan. The irrigation period for winter wheat in Shandong, Henan and Anhui, where the weather is warmer, could come a little earlier than in Hebei. Another factor in the farmers' apathy over the drought was the fact the crops turned out accounted for only a small a portion of a family's annual income, according to Xie Guangkun with Xieyuan village of Yanshan county. 'Our 4 mu [0.3 hectare] brings us only a little over 2,000 yuan [HK$2,270] a year,' he said. 'The return is not worth the work we have put out there.' Especially when he and his younger sister, Xie Lili, work in private factories in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, and each make about 30,000 yuan a year. Mr Xie's parents take care of farmland, but their small roadside grocery brings them more money than they earn from the land. 'Drought or whatever, who cares?' Mr Xie said. 'I see farmland as a burden, not a income resource.' In Taozhuangzi, Mr Sun, who sets aside at least 500kg of wheat a year from his harvest for family use, sees his land as his insurance policy. 'Working outside pays better, but opportunities may not always be there,' he said. 'But those lands are mine, and they will be with us in both good and bad times.'