Ohio farmers poised to meet China’s needs
World’s largest country not able
to feed its people, looks to U.S. for food and feed
By GARY BROCK
There isn’t one thing Ohio farmers need to know about China’s affect on Ohio agriculture. There are two.
And while Ohio State University’s retired international agriculture economist Dr. Allan Lines says Ohio farmers are all too familiar with the affect China has on the price of corn and soybeans they receive — most Ohioans are not aware of two more important factors in the “Ohio — China Connection” that will impact the future of Ohio farming.
“Ohio farmers need to be more aware of the behemoth that constitutes Chinese agricultural production, eclipsing most other countries in the world in the production of many commodities, and doing it on a limited amount of land” Dr. Lines said.
The second factor, and the one that will have a major impact on the future of American farming, is what Dr. Lines says is the “changing diets” in the world’s largest country.
China’s population is approximately 1.35 billion people — almost one out of four people on Earth. That population’s eating habits are changing, brought on in part by America’s importing “fast food” restaurants by the thousands in the last two decades and a rising economy. As a result, Dr. Lines says Chinese citizens are eating less grain, fewer vegetables and more meat.
When rolled together, the limited amount of land and the increasing need for “animal protein” in China will cause a huge jump in agricultural imports from the United States to China in coming years.
“Ohio farmers need to better understand the limits to farm production in China — land, water and the environment,” Dr. Lines said.
It may surprise many Ohioans that China, the world’s largest nation in land mass, is mostly desert. In fact, he says that China’s “tillable” land is about two-thirds of the United States’ available land for farming.
“If you go west of Beijing, you move into a desert region,” he said. “And that desert region is moving east.” He said this was partly caused by climate change and partly by mismanagement of the Mongolian plains area. He said years ago, Russia tried to transform this huge region in a new “wheat belt” — with disastrous results. The region dried up, and is expanding.
Dr. Lines also said China has serious air quality problems and very serious water quality problems. However, he adds that China’s government is denying it has any of these problems. So the problems aren’t going away any time soon.
And then there is the change in diet of the Chinese people. It is that change, coupled with growing restrictions on China’s ability to farm its own land, that will create great opportunities for Ohio’s farmers.
“Up until the 1980s, the Chinese people were essentially vegetarians. The start of the change was switching from rice boiled in water to rice cooked with soy oil,” he said.
What caused the biggest change in this Communist-run society was American Capitalism. As American companies began buying more inexpensive products from China, the incomes of Chinese workers began to rapidly increase (at least comparably). And for the first time, the average Chinese citizen could afford to buy something that in the past was an unobtainable luxury — meat.
And buy it they did, according to Dr. Lines. “It started with chicken, pork and eggs and has progressed to dairy and beef,” he said. He added that today, Chinese children consume as much milk and dairy products as American children — unheard of 20 years ago.
But China does not have the capability of providing the cattle, hogs and chicken with the roughage — the quality feed needed to produce quality meat protein. China cannot produce enough corn to feed its livestock.
And consider this: China produces 53,747 thousand metric tons of meat each year. That ranks it number one in the world, and that still is not enough to satisfy its citizens’ desires for meat protein.
Dr. Lines said the Chinese government has now done something very smart — it has decided that there are some things easier to buy abroad than to try to produce itself. But also, the Chinese government picked farm produce that no one country has a monopoly in. That way, no foreign country can hold supply and prices over their heads.
For example, soybeans. Ironically, soybeans come from China, but they have essentially given up growing it in favor of importing it from other countries. But America has no monopoly on soybean production. If we don’t keep costs low and quality high, China can go to Brazil, Argentina, eastern Europe or Africa. The same applies to cotton. And wheat.
However, at present the United States does have a monopoly on corn production worldwide. Dr. Lines says that is why China is emphasizing corn production in its own country to fight the American monopoly. He said at present China produced about two-thirds of the U.S.’s 165 bushels of corn per acre average.
Dr. Lines said the other big change taking place in Chinese agriculture is the shift from backyard livestock production (animals subsisting on farm and household waste) to intensified “western-style” animal production. These modern systems will require immense amounts grains, grain products, soybeans and soy products – amounts beyond China’s capacity to produce. This includes beef, pork, dairy and poultry production.
So, with all the growing needs from a hungry world, especially China, what advice does Dr. Lines give Ohio farmers to take advantage of this growing need?
Here is what he suggests:
1. Ohio farmers need to keep producing more and more soybeans and corn;
2. They must continue to be the low cost producer of soybeans and corn;
3. Farmers must make sure they lay the plans for efficient farm management so that the crops are produced with no waste of energy, time or money;
4. Farmers need to spend more time developing systems to produce low cost and high quality meat products — with an emphasis on dairy, pork and chicken;
5. When China looks abroad for produce, it is looking for high quality. “Get the food to them in the manner they want,” said Dr. Lines;
6. Remember that people are people, and the Chinese people are like everyone else — they like meat;
7. Americans, Ohio farmers, need to “get into China with a strong marketing program” to push our agriculture products;
8. Provide a high-quality resource the Chinese cannot produce, but need. For Ohio farmers, that could be alfalfa. It is high-quality alfalfa that the Chinese will need more of in the future for their livestock (See related story.)
For Dr. Lines, what is the bottom line for Ohio farmers as they look to provide more exports of produce to China?
“The over-arching story is — the world’s largest agricultural producer with rising incomes and increased animal protein consumption cannot now and will not be able to feed itself in the future.”
(Gary Brock is editor of ACRES of Southwest Ohio.)