The potato industry in Ulanqab, dubbed the "potato city" of China, has become one of the main industries to help farmers shake off poverty.
Located in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Ulanqab is an important national production hub for commercial potatoes and special potatoes for processing.
The potatoes here originate from petri dishes in a laboratory.
In a white coat, Wang Jianru, who just graduated from Ulanqab Vocational College, stood in the laboratory of Inner Mongolia Xisen Potato Co. Ltd. in Shangdu County, Ulanqab. With a large beaker in her hand, she was carefully preparing nutrient solution.
"We put high-class potato stem tips into sterile nutrient solution to cultivate virus-free seedlings," said Wang, a potato engineering major. She confects 700 to 800 liters of nutrient solution a day.
The laboratory can breed 150 million virus-free seedlings every year. Planting potatoes with virus-free seedlings has greatly improved planting efficiency and product quality, Wang said.
Ulanqab has a large temperature difference between day and night, concentrated precipitation, loose soil and soft sand, which are all conducive to potato growth. At the right place and right time, the potato farming industry has helped many poor local households shake off poverty.
Yang Hongjuan, 34, a farmer in the county's Lamaban Village, has benefited from the potato industry.
When Yang, from northwest China's Gansu Province, married a villager in Lamaban in 2007, she was horrified by the poor living standards of her husband's family.
"The house was dilapidated, and we had to stabilize the roof with sandbags," she recalled.
Yang and her husband used to do part-time jobs to make ends meet for their family of seven. In 2018, the family's annual income was only 20,000 yuan (about 2,868 U.S. dollars).
Last year, with the help of the local government, Yang received an interest-free loan of 20,000 yuan and contracted two greenhouses.
A technician from Inner Mongolia Xisen Potato Co., Ltd. taught Yang to plant virus-free seedlings. Half a year later, she was able to finish the planting work on her own.
The virus-free seedlings produce thumb-sized fruits. These miniature potatoes are called "breeder seeds." The fruit grown with the breeder seed is the potato people usually eat.
Last year, these seeds brought Yang more than 60,000 yuan in revenue. Yang paid off the loan, renovated her house and shook off poverty.
Forty-four registered poverty-stricken households rented greenhouses to cultivate breeder seeds. The net income brought by each greenhouse could reach at least 15,000 yuan a year. Renting two greenhouses, one family can get rid of poverty.
In recent years, the potato planting area in Ulanqab has covered more than 267,000 hectares, accounting for about 8 percent of the total potato planting areas in China, according to local authorities.
This year, Yang's village is expected to produce 62 million potato breeder seeds, which could be planted in 800 hectares of croplands.