China plans to speed up the adoption of genetically modified corn varieties, a move that could allow Chinese farmers to start seeding GMO corn as early as 2023. The plan would expand the use of biotechnology to boost crop yields and further ensure domestic food security in the world’s top grain importer.
The plan by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also calls for expanding soybean planted area, especially in Heilongjiang, the top soybean producing province. China currently produces only around 15% of its soybean needs, mainly for human consumption, while the balance is imported principally for animal feed. An expansion of domestic soybean production isn’t likely to materially impact China’s high import needs.
Chinese farmers are currently not permitted to plant GMO corn, although GMO crops can be imported for processing into animal feed. While China’s corn yields per hectare grew 9% in 2021 from a decade earlier, boosted mainly by heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers, they remain more than 40% below US yields.
China has become the biggest importer of grains and oilseeds in recent years, mainly as feed for its growing hog herd as meat consumption by the country’s expanding middle class increases. In 2020/21, China’s corn imports nearly quadrupled to a record from a year earlier, while total grain imports jumped 145%, according to Gro data.
With China’s hog herd now recovered from the impact of African swine fever in 2018, China will continue to need large quantities of feed, much of it from imports, as its hog herd matures and the hog industry becomes more industrialized. For information about Gro’s extensive analytics on China’s grain and protein industries, and our machine-learning forecast models, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chinese government has long emphasized the need for greater food self-sufficiency as a national security concern, and for the first time highlighted the role GMO seeds could play in boosting yields in a major policy document in early 2021.
Significantly improving Chinese yields, however, is potentially a decades-long undertaking, which also would require increasing farm size, expanding mechanization, and replenishing depleted soils. Nor is China able to expand total acreage, as nearly all its cultivable area is already being used. Read Gro’s Strategic Assessment: China's New Push for Food Security for a deeper dive into China’s food policies.
China will remain a huge importer of grains and oilseeds for years to come. But as efforts to increase domestic production show results over the longer term, there will be major implications for global trade flows and the merchandisers and shipping companies that drive those flows.
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