China’s Farm Mechanization

Published on Author paldinoj15

As rural populations migrate to urban areas, it impacts agricultural production, efficiency, and mechanization. In their article, Would more extensive out-migration of rural farmers expedite farm mechanization?, Luo and Escalante examine the impact of Chinese rural out-migration on farm mechanization. Ostensibly, as rural workers migrate to urban areas, farm mechanization should increase as, “declines in agricultural population lead to a forced replacement of labor for more machines… [and] remittances of income obtained by former rural farm dwellers or operators from other non-farm sectors can further advance the mechanization initiative by providing more available funds that translate to stronger financial support” (Luo and Escalante, 2015).

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Over the past two decades China has undergone rapid urbanization. Coupled with the fact that the Chinese government has made a concerted effort to increase mechanization to “65-70 percent by 2020” (Wang and Chu, 2012), it would be expected that Chinese farms have seen a marked increase in mechanization as well. However, Luo and Escalante find that decreasing farm populations actually delayed the normal schedule of farm mechanization. They suggest that as farm population decreases, the quality of farm labor decreases as well because, “a large proportion of farmers who contemplate and decide on migration are with higher educational level and more adventurous” (Luo and Escalante, 2015). They also cite an indirect effect stemming from foreign agricultural products that have entered the market. As demand for local agriculture decreases, the mechanization process in China slows. Ultimately, the effects of remittances (money flowing back to farm workers from urban workers who have migrated) earned from doing non-farm jobs, the establishment of larger farms as rural workers migrate out, and increased human capital coming out of increased urbanization may all lead to increased farm mechanization. However, in the case of China it seems that these effects have not been strong enough to transform the Chinese agricultural industry just yet.


Luo, Tianyuan, and Escalante, Cesar. 2015. Would more extensive out-migration of rural farmers expedite farm mechanization? Evidence from a changing Chinese agricultural sector. Selected paper prepared for presentation at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association’s 2015 annual meeting. Atlanta, GA

Wei,Wang and hang,Chu. 2012. “China will realized the basic mechanization of main crops by 2020.” Available at:, accessed March 22, 2013.

3 Responses to China’s Farm Mechanization

  1. This is a neat paper; maybe I’ll assign it when we turn our class focus towards migration.

    I’ve read one paper that indirectly touches on this issue, in that it asks (empirically) how remittances are used — are they saved and/or invested, or used for current consumption (including housing upgrades and children’s schooling). That answer seems to be the latter. Indeed, grandparents seem to spend part of the money sent home by parents for their children on themselves, or give it to neighbors for medical bills or social events such as funerals. There are thus anecdotes on how migrants can set up bank accounts that relatives can’t touch, or otherwise exert more influence on how remittances are used.

  2. Note the graph: it doesn’t look like much change, but the total is down by 200 million!!

    See the China Statistical Yearbook, rural population of 642 million in 2012, down from a peak of 859 million in 1995 (Tables 3-1 and 3-7). This is likely an undercount on the urban side / overcount on the rural, as its a difficult statistical challenge to capture all migrants, particularly those who aren’t permanent urban residents.

  3. This article highlights the factors that I would not have thought of when considering the somewhat intuitive trend of decreased population and increased mechanization in Chinese farms. One would assume that impact of the migration to urban centers on agricultural output would be mitigated by a greater presence of machines. What confuses me slightly is the statement that “a large proportion of farmers who contemplate and decide on migration are with higher educational level and more adventurous.” Does this only mean that the quality of labor falls with urbanization? Could it also indicate the level of trust that the remaining farmers have in mechanized, as opposed to manual, labor?