With hard work, creativity and a little bit of luck, farmers can turn agriculture into an industry that offers a comfortable living, the Council of Agriculture said yesterday.
At this year’s award ceremony for Outstanding Farmers, 10 farmers — from the rice, tea, pigs and fish industries, among others — received the highest honor in the agricultural field from Council Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄).
“The 10 farmers were chosen after a series of nomination and selection processes. All of them exemplify the qualities required to be modern farmers, such as hard work, modernized operating methods, safe production and eco-friendly farming,” Chen said.
Yunlin County tea farmer Ye Shu-pen (葉淑盆) was lauded for introducing organic teas into her production class and for marketing and branding her products.
Twenty-two years ago, after marrying Chen Chung-chia (陳重嘉), a third-generation tea farmer, the former hairdresser began rising at the crack of dawn to tend to her tea trees, she said.
“At first, the biggest challenge was working very long hours outdoors. The hours are so long I can sleep standing up. We have also grown and roasted batches of tea without having any customers,” Yeh said.
However, Yeh said she quickly realized that farmers need not indulge in self-pity or be constrained by tradition.
“I absorb a lot of outside information and knew that organic farming is the future. So I began turning all our farms organic,” she said.
Some types of Yehs’ tea sell for NT$16,000 per 600g, which is on the high side in the tea market. Her tea is sold at five five-star hotels around the country, she said.
Thinking outside the box seems to be the key to success in farming, as Wang Yi-feng (王益豐), the youngest award recipient, also employed that to his benefit and increased the revenue of his family’s tilapia farm 2.5-fold.
“When my grandfather was managing the farm, he only sold tilapia in the whole-fish form. When my father took over, he began to sell fillets,” the 28-year-old Wang said.
However, when Wang was put in charge of the family business five years ago, he used what he learned in school and infused biotechnology elements into his tilapia farm, he said.
“Each fish can now be made into 10 different products. We still sell the fillets, but we also sell fish chins, fish heads and smoked fish skin [all popular delicacies especially in Japanese food], fish oil, fish powder [used as fish feed] and we extract collagen from fish scales and sell it to cosmetic companies,” Wang said.
The fish scale collagen business alone generates revenues of NT$200 million (US$5.9 million) annually for his 50-employee start-up, Wang said, adding that total revenues at his biotechnology firm was more than NT$500 million annually.
Asked what led him to change the way his grandfather and father ran the farm, Wang said: “Without trying, I would never know if I would succeed. I’ve always known I wanted to take over the family business, but I also wanted to apply what I had learned in college.”