Northern Vietnam authorities are helping farmers expand their winter crop acreage, Tran Xuan Dinh, Deputy Director of the Department of Crop Production, told Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper.

*According to weather forecasts, the upcoming winter crop will face some severe weather events. Does your department have any plans to help farmers in the north cope with bad weather?

We instructed localities to develop their winter crop plans several months ago.

According to the National Centre for Hydro Meteorological Forecasting, the El Nino phenomena will return. Coupled with impacts from the monsoon season, particularly with less rain at the end of the season, winter temperatures this year are expected to be higher than normal. This climate will be good for planting warm-season crops.

*What crop structure will your department recommend to farmers?

Scientifically speaking, winter crops are divided into two groups - the warm season crops, including corn, soybean, sweet potato, vegetables, watermelon, gourd and pumpkin. The other group includes cold-season crops such as potatoes, cauliflower, kohlrabi, carrots and others.

As usual, the warm-season crops accounts for between 47-48 percent while the cold-season crops account for more than 60 percent. But for this year, according to the weather forecast, the winter this year will be much warmer. That's why we have recommended farmers to grow crops for the warm season.

We also recommend the farmers to start growing the crops as soon as possible, particularly corn.

To prepare for the winter crops, local agriculture extension workers nationwide have organised training for farmers on how to take care of each type of crop and recommend what type of fertiliser should be used for each type of plant.

*In recent years, the acreage of winter crops has increased considerably. But the gross output has not increased. Why?

I agree! The crop acreage has increased a lot while the gross output increase has been very modest and not as good as expected. I have to concede, our winter crops are facing many challenges due to the severe weather and the shortage of labour.

People living in the countryside nowadays are mainly old people and children. This is the key reason why the field is empty during the winter time. In addition, rapid urban development has caused a lot of difficulties for irrigation and drainage activities. So is the strong development of aqua-culture.

Another reason is that I think that we should take it into account the volatile prices of agriculture products which have made the farmers uninterested in winter crops.

However, in my opinion, the most challenging to our agriculture industry are climate change impacts. Severe storms and heavy rains have cost heavy toll on the farmers. According to statistics, some of our major winter crops, particularly maize, has reduced in the last five years. From our perspective, the Department of Crop Production has asked agriculture extension centres nationwide to further extend their technical support to farmers to help them increase the maize yield.

*Has the Government adopted any policy to encourage farmers to increase their acreage of winter crops?

I'm afraid to say, at present, the government has not adopted any policy to encourage farmers to increase their acreage of winter crops, aside from a policy to maintain the present rice land. However, during natural calamities, the government has supported the farmers by providing them with seeds.

Activities supporting the farmers in growing winter crops have been decentralised to local authorities. For example, Hanoi authorities have subsidised up to 50 percent of the production cost of soybean, plus 100 percent of the seed cost.

The Hanoi authority has also provided up to 30 percent of the materials used in minimum tillage potato growing, green bumpkin, red pumpkin and hybrid sticky maize.

Meanwhile Hung Yen and Vinh Phuc provinces and Hai Phong city has spent billions of dong to support farmers to grow winter crops.-VNA