The last twenty years have brought unprecedented developments to Chinese agriculture, but they have also brought challenges that have shaken the food chain and led to diminished consumer confidence. Companies that dared to dream while sticking to their core survived, and those utilizing new technologies have a bright future in the world’s largest swine, aqua and feed-producing country.

The Middle Kingdom has seven percent of the world’s arable land and 20 percent of the world’s population. Yet, the country is heavily dependent on grain and milk imports because of a confined land base for agriculture. “We’ve seen a massive increase in the amount of imports to China,” says Dr. Mark Lyons, vice president of Alltech, Inc. “In fact 60 percent of the soybean exports around the world come to China. It’s just staggering.

Corn imports are not as high but are becoming significant. When you think of the way the land is distributed in China, it’s very hard to compare it to an Iowa or a Brazil where you have these sweeping landscapes and a combine can drive in one direction for half an hour. In China, you’re talking about these little plots of land. Land rights must change, and that will have major implications for social stability.

“One of the major reasons that we’re seeing the government pushing for urbanization is to get people off that land and in a lot of ways, to have a more productive agricultural sector,” he adds. “But agriculture doesn’t pay as much in taxes as businesses do in the cities, and that’s another reason why they want urbanization.”

Lyons lives in Beijing and is responsible for Alltech’s China operations. The company has been doing business in China for 20 years and recently held a summit to celebrate the milestone. The event showcased successes in the feed and food industry and updated the 700-plus attendees on modern practices used in the United States, Europe and other countries. It also challenged those present to adapt to a changing environment for agriculture. Speakers from throughout the world participated, and this editor was there, covering the event.

Small Farms Constraint for Growth Although more than 50 percent of the world’s pig production is in China, the country is a net importer of pork meat.

“The farms are extremely small and the average pig farmer still only owns 15 sows,” says Lyons. “Because of the huge number of small producers, the government is making a concerted effort to encourage rural people to move to the cities. As a result, many of the small farms will disappear and large, modern operations will appear in their place.”

The industry has made tremendous advances in the last 20 year,s but quality issues and disease challenges are significant issues that must be addressed. And the fact that animals and people are in close proximity is a major challenge.

“One of the most critical factors is whether they can find a way to control disease,” states Lyons. In addition to controlling disease, space limitations and access to raw materials are factors that will play major role.

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