RETIRED party elder Song Ping has called for a continuous increase in agricultural development funds, saying it is vital to China's economic growth and social stability, the official media reported yesterday. Mr Song, a former Politburo Standing Committee member, delivered the call during an inspection tour of the eastern province of Shandong, a key agricultural production base for China. According to Xinhua (the New China News Agency), the party elder said at no time and under no circumstances should agriculture be neglected. ''[We] have to take every possible measures to ensure a faster pace of development of agriculture,'' he said. Xinhua said Mr Song toured nine counties and cities from April 19 to 30 with Shandong's party boss Jiang Chunwan and Governor Zhao Zhihao. He has visited enterprises, village households and paddy fields and talked to the grassroot cadres and peasants, the official news agency reported. Mr Song said: ''[We] must continuously boost the input to agriculture in order to strengthen the status of agriculture as the basis of the national economy. ''Without large input there will not be major growth.'' He added, however, that funding from the central coffers was just one of the channels of funds. Separately, another Xinhua despatch said southwestern Sichuan province, China's rice bowl, had reported a bumper grain harvest. It said farmers and relevant departments were now busy preparing to reap and purchase the summer harvest. Xinhua attributed the better harvest to improved knowledge about agricultural development. ''Governments at all levels have attached significance to the alleviation of the burden of peasants and stopped the issuing of IOUs. The moves have received support from peasants,'' it said. ''Since the prediction for the future market of agricultural products has been good, farmers have become more enthusiastic in their work.''