Agriculture is a vital industry in every country, as food, fiber and fuel are the building blocks of life.
Recently, members of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, myself included, flew to China for the international aspect of the program to learn about agriculture there. The trip started in Beijing, and included the cities Xi’an, Guilin and Shanghai.
In Beijing, the group visited with the U.S. Embassy about agriculture, as well as the political and social structure of the country. We also had the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China.
In terms of agricultural stops, the group visited an ecological farm. Most of their food crops are grown in greenhouses, and some of the harvest is sold and the rest is consumed by the people in the village. Only about 10 percent of what they produce is sold total. Many of the veggies are sold, but all of the corn is kept to feed the livestock and all of the livestock are consumed by the village.
On our last day in Beijing we had a lecture in the morning from the China Science Academy on the past of Chinese agriculture and how it got to where it is today. Previous to 1930, farmers owned their own land and farmed. In 1930 the government took possession of all land in the entire country, and adopted the methods of the Soviet Union called a production brigade in their farming practices.
In the 1980s, the government abandoned that method and allowed farmers to have control over what they grow, also they have to lease the land and cannot own it.
The group also visited a beef feedlot. The animals are housed in concrete pens, and when they are fed, each animal is tried to a rail that goes around their horns. They told us they let the animals loose when they are not eating. They process 200 head every Wednesday and every Saturday. The carcasses are hung for three days and then they are fabricated. Beef is not currently a largely consumed meat in China, but demand is growing.
In Guilin, the group had a chance to learn about rice farming and processing. We hiked to our hotel on Longji Peak, which is where hundreds of rice terrace are located. Even though it was winter and the rice was not in the ground, the group was able to see how it is grown and what it takes.
We also visited a rice processing facility in the town of Guilin. Our biggest surprise was all of the technology they utilized. Up to this point, the group had seen very limited technology. The way the rice is processed is completely done by machine, which has allowed the company to turn a profit and continue to invest in their business. Developed nations, such as the United States, feature state of the art technology and advancements that allows farmers and ranchers to grow more with less.
However, these technologies are not available or not regularly utilized in many other countries, and agriculture in a country such as China is mainly done by hand.
“China is one of the world’s most important agricultural economies and a major player in international markets for many agricultural commodities,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
China has only 10 percent of the arable land worldwide, and produces food for approximately 20 percent of the global population.
Nearly 50 percent of China’s population are farmers. They raise rice, potatoes, wheat, tea, millet, cotton, pork, fish, sorghum, peanuts, barley and oilseed.
We had the opportunity to visit a pig breed facility in Guilin, which is a joint venture between a United States company and a Chinese company. This company provides high quality breeding stock for local pork growers.
In Shanghai, the group visited our third and largest local market, called a wet floor market. The wet floor market is their food market, and nearly every type of food can be purchased there.
Meat, produce, grains, fish and tea can all be purchased. Fresh, cooked, bagged and in every form you can imagine. Some of it is local, other shipped in. However, the biggest difference is how it is presented.
In the U.S., produce is sold in a clean building, temperature controlled. Meat is sold is refrigerated cases. This system does not exist in China. Food is sold in bulk in a building. Meat is not refrigerated. It’s displayed on a table as whole parts, cuts and every part of the animal, not just the meat. Organs, ears, tongues and tails are common sales of pork.
Poultry is sold as a whole bird, feet and head intact. Ducks are sold in a similar way. The way their food is sold is basically a giant farmers market, similar to the ones that we have in the U.S., except you don’t usually see fresh meat or seafood products.
The most interesting part of the wet floor market in Shanghai was the seafood. Almost everything was live. The only items that weren’t were items such as Octopus and Squid, and also the shellfish such as clams. Almost everything else including several varieties of fish, crabs, turtles and eels were live. There were some frozen fish, but very little.
Seafood doesn’t get any fresher. People pick the item that they want, and the shop keeping will process it right there. Crabs are picked out of the tank and then tied with string (all their appendages) and away they go.
While in Shanghai the CALP group also visited the agricultural trade office (ATO) to meet with representatives from there and from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The ATO Shanghai Director, Keith Schneller spoke first. He talked about the programs they have, and how much product China imports from the U.S.
“China imports 28 billion dollars worth of product from the U.S., half of which are from soybeans. China imports 1 million metric tons (2,200 lbs) every week of soybeans, half from the U.S. and half from South America. That equates to 20, 50,000 ton Panamax (the biggest ship that fits through the Panama Canal) every single week. Almost all of that goes for livestock feed. Income is increasing in China, and as incomes rise, people eat more meat,” he said.
He also talked about the meat and dairy industry, and how those markets are growing in China. “The dairy industry is also growing in China. In fact, they import 600,000 tons of alfalfa each year now. People want more dairy products now, even if they don’t trust it coming from China,” he said.
He continued, “The biggest meat product that is imported to China is pork. Chinese people eat a lot of pork, and in 2012, 450,000 metric tons (990 million lbs) of U.S. pork was imported into China. They are the largest pork importer into China.”
We were presented with some studies about American products in China. According to the studies, American products are extremely popular in China. Forty percent of Chinese people prefer American products, and will pay up to 80 percent more for these products, because they see them as higher quality. Many Chinese people see products made in China as inferior and not good quality.
Agriculture is growing in China, and the members of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program were also to see that first hand on their trip to China.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China, “In the coming future, China will be in a stage of accelerated industrialization, urbanization, marketization and internationalization, and sustainable socioeconomic growth will require stronger support from agriculture. China will continue to put the issue of agriculture, rural areas and farmers as the top priority. It will continue to fortify agriculture as the economic basis, seek a route of agricultural modernization with
Chinese characteristics, and promote integrated urban and rural socioeconomic development with the mechanism of industry nurturing agriculture and urban areas supporting rural areas. ❖