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September 16, 2021

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Tomato paste undergoing a tech revolution

At a packaging workshop of canned tomato paste in Yanqi Hui Autonomous County in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aysam Sawut watches over a control console while listening to music on her headphones.

The 29-year-old skilled operator and 26 other workers are employed at the highly automated factory which produces around 6,000 tons of tomato paste annually. Half of its products are sold overseas.

Aysam Sawut’s factory is certainly relevant to pizza and crisp lovers.

One in five canned tomato pastes available on the global market are likely to have been produced in Xinjiang, one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of the sweet-sour product.

In 2020 alone, the region produced nearly 720,000 tons of tomato products, accounting for more than 85 percent of China’s total.

Yang Ruisheng deems autumn the most joyful season of the year. A tomato farmer and head of a local rural cooperative in Yanqi, Yang owns about 40 hectares of tomato plantation.

“A bumper harvest is in sight this year and the robust market demand has helped increase the price of our tomatoes,” said Yang.

One hectare of tomatoes can bring local farmers more than 75,000 yuan (US$11,650) in gross income.

Tomato paste makers are racing for raw materials, and they are even willing to come to harvest the tomato fields themselves, Yang said.

Large tomato-plucking machines are frequently seen in the fields in Yanqi. Machines are mostly used in the industry chain covering tomato plantation, harvesting and processing.

During tomato plantation, human labor is only required when dropping seedlings at regular intervals on the mobile planting machine.

“Tomatoes are planted with a fixed row-to-row spacing so as to better facilitate mechanized harvesting,” said Xiong Xiangdong, a senior agricultural technician in Yanqi.

Besides, drones are used for spraying pesticides and devices with sensors are utilized to help sort out unripe tomatoes, stalks and clods.

Faster than humans

“Normally, machines can harvest about 6,667 square meters of plantation in just 10 hours.

“At least three to four days are needed if relying on human labor,” said Ma Liang, an operator of agricultural machinery in Yanqi.

He can earn more than 15,000 yuan in the 50-day harvest season.

Xinjiang’s tomato paste industry is not only highly efficient but also lucrative. More than 90 percent of the region’s tomato products are sold overseas, mainly in Italy, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.

The tomato paste produced in Yanqi is rich in lycopene, good in taste and hardly contains any mold, thanks to the local dry climate, ample sunshine, fertile land and huge temperature differences between day and night.

“Our products are very popular in Middle East countries,” said Zhang Gaohui, chairman of the factory where Aysam Sawut works.

He has been engaged in the industry for 26 years and is very confident in his products.


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