Shenyang Station: Thirty Years of Black Soil Observation and Research Bring Economic Benefits In the End (Series Report No.7 of the Black Soil & Granary Initiative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Release Time:2021-10-09 Big Small

Shenyang Station R&D Base

In the golden autumn season, in various parts of Northeast China, corn has come to its mature stage. Also, at the (Liaoning) Shenyang Farmland Ecosystem National Observation and Research Station (hereinafter referred to as Shenyang Station), the autumn harvest and the production measurement are about to start.

Shenyang Station, affiliated to the Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE), Chinese Academy of Sciences, is located in the southwestern suburb of Shenyang City. In the past decades, a group of scientific researchers from IAE worked at Shenyang Station to collect long-term observational and experimental data in order to explore approaches that can help local farmers better use the black soil they cultivated.

The Founder of Shenyang Station

In 1986, Shen Shanmin, then deputy director of IAE, suggested building an agricultural experimental station. He proposed that it was necessary to have a permanent place to carry out long-term ecological experiments as it would be difficult to ensure the stability of experimental condition and the safety of equipment on rented land.

"We need to establish a permanent experimental base to innovate applied techniques that can solve ecological and agricultural problems (e.g., soil and water pollution) occurring in Liaohe Plain," Shen Shanmin said.

With the support of Gao Zhengmin, the then director of IAE, Shen Shanmin devoted all his efforts to the construction of Shenyang Station, and then became the first station head of the station. He conducted site selection throughout rural areas around Shenyang, and finally decided to build the station at the current site. After that, he personally made the site layout planning to determine where to build a house or a road and where to set up the plots for experiments. He had a deep understanding of the functional requirements of a research station as he had many years of field work experience and used to work at the Lausanne experimental station, UK.


In 1989, Shenyang Station was ranked among the first batch of stations listed in the Chinese Academy of Sciences Ecosystem Research Network (CERN). The station was formally put into use in 1990, and was ranked as the National Field Scientific Observation and Research Station in 2005.

"The long-term field experiments designed and arranged by the old station head, Mr. Shen Shanmin himself, have become the greatest wealth of Shenyang Station," Chen Xin, the current station head of Shenyang station, told China Science Daily reporters. "The original station layout has been using till today, and is still able to meet basic needs of scientific research," Chen Xin said.

Miscellaneous Ecological Variables Being Monitored in Liaohe Plain

"The geographical location of Shenyang Station is very important. This geographical advantage creates ideal conditions for black soil research in Liaoning Province," Chen Xin told the reporters.

Liaoning Province has a typical black soil area of about 28 million mu, accounting for 10.07% of the cultivated black soil area in Northeast China. Mainly distributed in Liaohe Plain and the eastern low mountain range of Liaoning, the Liaoning black soil area is an important grain production base and green agricultural products base of China. In 2021, the CAS launched the Black Soil & Granary S&T Initiative. As a field station for farmland conservation, Shenyang Station played an important role in black soil protection and utilisation.

Since its establishment, Shenyang Station has been conducting ecological data monitoring with up-to-date equipment. "These data represents the environmental changes in agricultural ecosystems in Liaohe Plain over the past 30 years. The monitoring data, such as air temperature, ground temperature and groundwater level, provided strong support for blueprinting the Black Soil & Granary Initiative," Chen Xin said.

The Protection and Utilisation of Black Soil Bring Economic Benefits

Shenyang Station has a number of long-term field experiments and technical support platforms, including the long-term experiment for nutrient and water cycles, the long-term experiment on slow/controlled release urea fertilisers, and the long-term fertilisation regime experiment, etc.

Zhang Xudong is the former head of Shenyang station (2005-2015) and head of the conservation tillage team of IAE. He and his team found that, after implementation of conservation tillage, the colour of soil becomes even darker, the organic matter content increases obviously and the soil quality significantly improves. To solve problems of soil erosion and soil degradation in the central part of Northeast China, Zhang Xudong carried out conservation tillage research in Lishu County, Jilin Province. Through research, Zhang's team developed a conservation tillage model suitable for black soil areas in Northeast China. Conservation tillage is a modern agricultural management approach that mainly includes straw mulching and no-tillage sowing practice. "The tillage system can help regulate soil functions, prevent black soil degradation, increase carbon sequestration and crop yields, enhance drought resistance and moisture retention of the soil, and decrease the use of fertilisers," Zhang Xudong told the reporters.

Characterised by corn stalk mulching, whole-process mechanised farming and reduced fertiliser application, the tillage model developed in Lishu County by Zhang Xudong's team is also called as the Lishu model. At present, the Lishu model has been extended to 50 million mu of black soil areas, which has generated 15 billion yuan of economic benefits. Zhang Xudong's team led the establishment of the Northeast China Science and Technology Innovation Alliance for Black Soil Conservation and Utilisation, and established nearly one hundred conservation tillage demonstration bases in Northeast China.

It was informed that a series of stable fertiliser products developed according to long-term field experiments at Shenyang Station have been industrialised, achieving annual production capacity of over 1.5 million tons, annual sales of about 4.2 billion yuan and a market share of 80%. "At present, the supporting efficiency of Shenyang Station has reached a plateau of development. How to serve the national strategic demand for green agricultural products and cope with new scientific problems emerged in Northeast China's agricultural areas are the directions of researchers's efforts at Shenyang Station," Chen Xin said.