Agriculture in China Rapidly Modernising

CHINA - Now that he has been back in the US for five days, Mike Brumm offers his thoughts about China and the changes he has witnessed. Words cannot begin to describe how fast China is modernising, he writes.
calendar icon 31 October 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

I was in seven different ‘cities’ in eight days and the upgrade in standard of living I observed was phenomenal, reports Mike Brumm. There were new 40-plus-storey apartment buildings everywhere. In many cases, I observed the demolition of the old brick and plaster single story historic housing as they upgrade the housing for 1.5 billion people.

When you have a discussion of US agriculture with Chinese counterparts, it is impossible for them to contemplate the scale of our agriculture. The traditional measure of land in China is approximately one-sixth of an acre (a small lot in a developing suburb in the US).

I saw corn harvested by hand and ears of corn aligned in rows on rural rooftops for drying. Corn stalks were cut off after harvest and often dumped in piles along field ends vs being returned to the soil as a carbon source (fall tillage in the US).

At a couple of the meeting sites I had interactions with traditional producers who had 100-300 sows farrow-finish. Their biggest questions/concerns were animal health and included questions on how to differentiate PEDv scours from E. coli or rotovirus. They are very concerned about their future as many of the US and European joint-venture farms rapidly expand.

Food safety is slowly making its way into the daily culture of the Chinese. The better farms have protocols for drug usage and withdrawal that mimic many of the successful US protocols. In some instances, the production systems have become fully integrated from feed milling to slaughter house.

These systems see their economic advantage being linked in part to their ability to deliver a safe and wholesome product into the Chinese (and now Russian) market.

Feed grains are very expensive in China. Because of the mountainous terrain there is not enough bulk freight transportation between the grain growing regions in northern China and grain consuming regions in southern China. US origin corn and soybeans are cheaper commodities than China grown grains.

However, producers in China were currently paying over $11 per bushel for US corn (old crop corn). Soybean meal was over $600 per ton. This demonstrates very clearly the cost of production advantage US, Canadian and Brazilian producers have when they can grow pigs at sites associated with feed grain production versus transporting grain long distances to grow livestock.

There is a huge demand/need for education of Chinese producers as they modernise their production capacity. For example, while some production systems are purchasing US feeders and drinkers, many sites still use Chinese designed and manufactured equipment.

At these sites, 15 to 20 per cent feed wastage is not uncommon. Even with fully slatted flooring, they often wash down all pens every day, meaning water usage for wean-finish facilities is 20 litres per day versus the US average of four litres.

In China, there are people everywhere. In one ‘city’ I asked about the population. The reply was their province was one of the smaller ones around – only 55 million people. Contrast that with less than one million people in South Dakota and less than two million in Nebraska and you can begin to see how different agricultural conditions are.

Charlotte Rowney

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