Busy season for Chinese fields

Harvesters assembled at joint Belarusian-Chinese enterprise Harbin Dong Jin Gomel operate in China

By Inessa Pleskachevskaya

Combine operator Lu Sinwei hardly has time for chatting; it’s harvest time after all. While Belarus enjoys its harvest in summer, the north-east of China reaps its produce in autumn: corn and wheat are harvested from late August to October. The north-eastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin are major agricultural areas. This season, harvesters assembled at the Belarusian-Chinese Harbin Dong Jin Gomel JV are operating on Heilongjiang fields. Combine operator Lu is pleased with his new KSK-600 fodder harvester, saying, “It’s a good harvester, as it’s so efficient; it harvests well and quickly.” He once again vanishes into the cabin, to make another round before stopping to eat: a simple dinner of steamed buns, rice and vegetables brought to the field.

A harvester cropping corn is operating on the next field, developed by Gomselmash especially for the local landscape. Its designers, manufacturers and combine operators are all pleased with the result. Alexander Savkov, Deputy Director General of Harbin Dong Jin Gomel JV, worked for 17 years as a chief technologist at Gomselmash, so he knows almost everything about harvesters. He tells us about the new vehicle with pride, explaining, “We’ve achieved stable output of up to one hectare per hour across various types of fields: small, sloping and large flat. The harvester has demonstrated high productivity and reliability everywhere; it hasn’t failed any of our tests.”

Harbin Dong Jin Gomel JV was set up in 2009; over a period of six weeks, a former warehouse located in Songbei (a rapidly developing district of Harbin) became a fully-fledged workshop with a powered conveyor. Belarusians were both surprised and pleased at how quickly the transformation occurred. It certainly showed that our Chinese partner is keen to co-operate, with serious intentions. Twenty years ago, such rates would have been called ‘accelerated tempos’.

Last year, another joint enterprise was established, manufacturing tractors: Dong Jin Minsk. The Dong Jin Group is the partner on the Chinese side, while the Minsk Tractor Works  and Gomselmash act for Belarus.

Mechanisation of agriculture has reached 52 percent in China, so there is further scope for growth. However, everything has its limit. The fields are modest in size in the south of the country, being ‘sandwiched’ by mountains on each side. Also, most are privately owned by smallholders who plant and harvest by hand, as they have done for centuries; mechanisation is almost impossible, as there’s no room for tractors or harvesters to turn round. Nevertheless, demand for agricultural machinery is rising in the spacious north, where our Belarusian-Chinese joint ventures are situated.

The President of the Dong Jin Group, Zhang Dajun, notes in his business plan, “We’re confident of further prospects. The demand for agricultural technology throughout China is estimated at around $47bn. Our enterprises aim to see sales of up to $1bn within five years. I believe that this is quite achievable.”

The Dong Jin Group is a private company; however, as it manufactures vital goods, it receives some state support. Of course, customers are only forthcoming where there is quality, reliability and service maintenance. “The Chinese are quite particular regarding quality,” notes Mr. Savkov.

The manufacturers are confident of the quality of their goods, giving a 12 month guarantee on tractors and a 24 month guarantee on harvesters. The Chinese specialists servicing the tractors are being trained at Minsk’s Tractor Works. In turn, Belarusians are working in Chinese fields, maintaining machinery while simultaneously teaching their Chinese colleagues.

The situation with harvesters is almost the same, except that operators need to learn certain specific aspects. At present, eight specialists from Gomselmash are working at local farms, maintaining machinery and teaching Chinese operators. Language does present a problem, so the Dong Jin Group has hired a whole team of translators. “We’re starting to really understand each other,” asserts Mr. Savkov. “We, technicians, look at drawings to understand, so we don’t rely totally on language.”

Fifteen companies producing agricultural machinery are currently working throughout Heilongjiang province. In fact, the Dong Jin Group’s only major rival is American John Deer. Other brands lag behind significantly in quality and reliability.
Harvesters and tractors manufactured by Dong Jin Gomel and Dong Jin Minsk are already considered to be ‘domestically produced’ — being assembled locally and using some local components. They’ve gained a good reputation. Setting up local assembly is a key stage for any joint enterprise. Sergey Astapenko, Deputy Director General of Dong Jin Minsk, notes that the first stage of localisation has been completed at his enterprise. “We’ve proposed the Chinese to localise production of metal goods — such as washers, bolts, screw nuts and collars, as we believe that this will be cheaper in China. It’s quite probably that, from next year, tractor sets will be delivered to China without metal produce, which will be directly bought on the Chinese market.” Mr. Savkov notes that local spare parts already account for 37 percent at Dong Jin Gomel, ‘which is very good for the first stage’. He also stresses that the quality of machinery has been virtually undeniable; moreover, the Chinese are able to understand and manage their own employees far more effectively.

Pleasingly, most of the harvesters and tractors being manufactured this year already have definite customers, so there will be no question of stocks mounting up in warehouses. As soon as the harvesting season is over, the results will be announced, with plans for next year outlined. By late November, Dong Jin Minsk will have signed a new contract with MTZ for the supply of tractor sets.

The organisation of assembly factories in China is economically profitable for both sides, as it’s cheaper to deliver vehicle sets, rather than ready-made tractors or harvesters, which are subject to customs duties. The benefits of ‘Made in China’ are obvious already, while our producers are able to reinforce their presence abroad.

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