Global warming and drastic climate change have made extreme weather increasingly common, with Taiwan's agricultural losses from typhoons and torrential rain increasing every year. In 2016, for instance, typhoons Nepartak, Meranti and Megi brought heavy rainfall that severely damaged agricultural production facilities, with high winds collapsing many greenhouses. Although the government took prompt action to start reconstruction and resume farm production, rebuilding took time and manpower, resulting in produce price volatility and other repercussions that affected daily life during the recovery period.
To increase the agricultural sector's ability to withstand natural disasters and stabilize produce supplies and prices, this year the Council of Agriculture (COA) launched a five-year plan to improve agricultural facilities around the country. The plan integrates agricultural product safety policies while promoting modularization of production facilities, provides financing assistance and technical consulting, and encourages enterprise participation to help farmers construct reinforced greenhouses and net houses that will increase operating efficiency and stabilize supply and demand.
II. Promote reinforced growing facilities for safe agriculture
Last year's typhoons damaged 11,000 hectares of vegetable plots as well as 2,488 hectares of growing facilities—about a quarter of the island's total greenhouse and net house area. Because most of the damaged facilities were poorly designed net houses or simple greenhouses that were structurally unsound, the COA's five-year plan aims to help farmers construct 2,000 hectares of reinforced greenhouses and net houses by 2021 through technical consulting services and subsidies. These efforts will improve disaster prevention and production efficiency while producing high-quality vegetables, fruits, flowers, special crops and seedlings.
These reinforced growing facilities are expected to protect 55,500 metric tons of produce, including 51,000 metric tons of vegetables and 4,500 metric tons of fruits. That will stabilize the produce supply for the Greater Taipei area during the 30-day period needed to resume farm production after a natural disaster. The plan will also benefit about 8,000 farming households and reduce disaster-related crop damage and social welfare costs by about NT$9.15 billion (US$296.12 million).
III. Subsidies and preferential loans
1. Subsidy and priority technical consulting targets:
(1) Subsidy targets: farmers, farmer organizations and agricultural community associations as defined by the Agricultural Development Act.
(2) Priority technical consulting targets: producers of agricultural produce that have obtained traceability or organic certification; farmers or farmer organizations that participate in contract-based farming; and enterprises or farmer organizations willing to participate in collectively operated growing facilities to stabilize supply and demand for vegetables and fruits.
2. Subsidy parameters:
Subsidies may cover up to 50 percent of the construction costs for net houses using a reinforced horizontal trellis, greenhouses using plastic film covering, and greenhouses using a reinforced steel skeleton and plastic film. The maximum subsidy will range from NT$900,000 (US$29,126) to NT$5.5 million (US$177,994) per hectare, depending on the type of structure and the area covered by the structure.
The government provides several types of loans to farmers, farmers associations, agribusinesses, and agricultural production and marketing organizations to help cover the costs of constructing reinforced growing facilities: 1) loans for improving agriculture and food production; 2) business loans to farmers and production and marketing organizations; and 3) loans for agricultural marketing operations, research and development, and innovation. Interest rates will range from 1.29 to 1.68 percent, with a maximum loan amount to farmers of NT$11 million (US$355,987) and a maximum term of 10 years.
4. Agricultural facility insurance:
The government will provide farmers with subsidies to prioritize growing facility insurance coverage.
5. Enterprise investments in rural communities and farmers:
Private enterprises will be encouraged to make joint investments with farmers using a contract-based production model to construct reinforced growing facilities, alleviating the financial burden on farmers while generating a greater return on investment.
IV. Technical support and personnel training
1. Provide standardized designs for various greenhouses and net houses:
Farmers sometimes find it difficult to select or inquire about greenhouses and net houses with different specifications and structural features that best meets their needs. The COA has therefore commissioned experts to make design blueprints for nine standard facility types to help farmers minimize costs while ensuring proper construction. For facilities not based on the standard designs, farmers may apply to have the COA technical services team review the design and provide professional consulting services.
2. Technical services team consulting:
Prior to or during the construction of greenhouses and net houses, COA technical services teams for growing facility construction and soil and water conservation can provide consulting services including the review of design blueprints, advice on site layout and excavation, and guidance on self-inspection of construction materials.
3. Greenhouse and net houses construction courses:
Because domestic greenhouse and net house construction businesses do not have the production capacity to construct 2,000 hectares of facilities within the next five years, the government will provide courses in construction techniques at the Farmers' Academy to train builders and encourage more people to get involved. In addition, the academy will work with the Ministry of Labor to offer courses on the construction of modular facilities to train and produce qualified manpower for the facility building industry.
4. Speed up the construction permit process:
The COA is requesting that local construction regulators simplify applications and expedite the approval and issuance of permits for the construction of structural greenhouses and net houses.
As Taiwan faces increasing challenges from climate change, the government is promoting facility-based agriculture to protect the nation's crops and staple food supplies and achieve safe agriculture. By helping the agricultural industry construct structurally sound growing facilities, the government hopes to reduce damage from natural disasters and improve production capacity while stabilizing the supply and sales of vegetables and fruits. Achieving these goals will help Taiwan's agricultural sector become more competitive, while changing farmers lives for the better.