Pork is China’s No. 1 consumed meat, and like the country’s population, the hunger for it is growing. If current trends in China's pork production and industrialization continue, corn imports could reach 20 million tons annually within just five short years.

That’s the estimate from a just-released report titled entitled, "The Industrialization of China's Pork Supply Chain," by Rabobank's Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group. The report looks at China's increasing role in the global pork industry, particularly the influence that it has in terms of impacting global supply and demand balances and prices.

The report points out that a major influencing factor is China's evolving pork industry landscape. “It will have major reverberations on world markets,” the report points out.

The rapid pace and success of the further industrialization of China's pork sector will be a major determinant as to whether China will accomplish self-sufficiency or become an even bigger importer. Some analysts believe the sheer volume that China demands make self-sufficiency in pork production unattainable.

If China could improve its corn yields and swine feed conversion ratios towards U.S. levels, then its pork self-sufficiency goals are achievable, the Rabobank report outlines. That of course, means that China would not have to import pork—which pork producers in many countries relay on those export sales.

The question is, even with crop production gains, would China have to supplement its feed needs by importing corn and soybeans?  China does have a lack of comparative advantage in land intensive agriculture (e.g., for growing corn), so it should import this type of commodity rather than producing it, and focus on areas such as pork production. However, challenges in achieving success in pork production include the continuation of disease problems, food safety issues, logistics, and the lack of a cold chain.

Even in the short term, if current trends in China's pork production and industrialization continue, the Rabobank report says corn imports would rise significantly.

China has recently been importing over 0.4 million tons of pork annually, in a world market with trade of less than 7 million tons per year. In Rabobank's view, China is likely to continue to import both pork and corn for the foreseeable future, but how much of each will depend on supply chain improvements. China's pork supply chain is in a transition period, shifting from traditional household farming to modern commercial systems. While both farms and processing plants are growing rapidly in size, coordination between the two remains undeveloped. The pork supply chain is still based on the spot market in most cases.

China does have great potential to make swine production gains, which will work to fill more product demand. The country’s consumers also have a strong preference for fresh meat

For more, go to Rabobank’s website.