A Growing Demand Draws Attention to Chinese Agriculture

February 15, 2012

Together, America’s farmers make up an economic powerhouse. They are a cornerstone of this nation’s security and prosperity—an engine leading us toward an economic recovery—and yet, so often, their value is taken for granted or overlooked.

But America’s farmers are not just creating wealth here at home, they are buttressing the whole world — a fact that is not lost on the Chinese government.

Clayton Yeutter, former Secretary of Agriculture, touched on the reality of the situation in a recent interview with Green State TV.

“I can remember when I first came to Washington in 1970… We thought we had a huge success story when we reached $10 billion in agricultural exports. This year, it will be $137 billion.”

Additionally, he said, while other parts of American commerce may be struggling, agriculture had a trade surplus of $45 billion in 2011—and $20 billion of that will be exported to China.

It’s no secret to the Chinese just how much they depend on our food supply—with only about nine percent arable land, agriculture has always proved challenging to them. So, last month, they announced plans to boost agricultural innovation in an attempt to increase food output and keep up with demand—on their own.

These plans include increasing funding for subsidies for a growing agricultural technology sector and focusing on stabilizing grain production, as well as bio-technology, seed production and effective use of farmland.

The Chinese said the government should also play a leading role in investment for agricultural science and ensure that the investment will create and significantly grow the sector compared to the amount invested.

The goal is to improve production of China’s 800 major grain-producing counties and support the building of production bases for vegetables, cotton, edible oil crops, and sugar.

Banks have also been encouraged to increase lending to the rural regions with help from the government, so that farmers with small operations might have an opportunity to grow.

So why this sudden focus on agricultural production?

“The central government estimates that China’s national grain consumption will reach 572.5 million tonnes by 2020,” Reuters reported. That’s up from 500 million in 2000—and it’s projected to hit 640 million by 2030. Not to mention the expected tripling of corn purchases this year alone.

And, although China is largely self sufficient in wheat production, that’s not the case with soybeans and corn. In fact, not too long ago China imposed a ban on foreign grain imports but was forced to lift it when domestic production couldn’t keep up with the booming demand.

Fortunately for China and all nations, U.S. farmers have been making these investments for years — posting yearly productivity gains — and making their expertise and technology and their bounty available for the world. They truly are the thin green line standing between a secure food supply and global uncertainty.

Try to imagine what modern China, or for that matter the world would be like if not for the blessing of U.S. farmers.