By Joe Lardy, research manager, CHS Hedging
China has had a long-standing policy to be self-sufficient in key food source production, including rice, wheat and corn. In 2004, the Chinese government made historic adjustments to its agriculture policy when it eliminated taxes on agriculture and created a new system of subsidies for key commodities. The subsidies supported seed and machinery purchases and resulted in improved infrastructure.
This set the stage for a huge buildup of acreage devoted to corn production.
Because soybeans were not considered a key food source, China’s leaders decided to rely on imports to meet the country’s needs. China has roughly 50 percent of the world’s hog supply, and pork is a staple in Chinese diets. In the late ’90s, animal nutritionists in China began to recommend adding soybean meal to hog rations to boost efficiency. Soybean meal became a core feed input for China’s hogs and soybean imports to China skyrocketed.
China has continued its policy of encouraging corn production while needing to import more and more soybeans. Within the past few years, Chinese officials realized the country’s corn stocks were enormous, while it was importing soybeans at a record pace. They began to take measures to encourage farmers to reduce corn acreage and increase soybean plantings.
The changes are taking hold. Acreage is trending lower and data from inside China shows the massive stockpiles are shrinking. We have also seen a dramatic increase in the harvested area for soybeans the past few years. If the pattern continues, we could see a shift in Chinese imports. Soybean exports from the U.S. may not continue growing at the rapid pace we have seen in the past. We could also see China become a corn importer again. While this may not happen in the next year, the stage is being set for long-term structural change.