China Part 1: Growth of Chinese Pork Production

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Pork is BIG in China. China accounts for half of the world’s production and consumption of pork. China’s annual pork production is 4 to 5 times larger than the U.S. Density in three Chinese provinces exceeds 200 hogs per acre, which compares to only North Carolina in the U.S. Chinese statistics report that 700 million pigs are slaughtered annually—one for every 2 Chinese people.

China produces nearly all of its own meat. Its output of pork, poultry, and beef rose from about 20 million tons in 1986 to over 70 million tons in 2012, with the fastest growth during the 1980s into the early ‘90s. USDA projects an increase in pork, poultry, and beef output to 90 million tons by 2023-2024, an increase of 30%.

Trends in China

  • In the 1980s, China began to emerge from poverty and isolation. Rising living standards and urbanization are stimulating increases in China’s meat production and consumption.
  • Tightening rural labor markets, disease issues, and other factors have pushed China’s livestock sector away from family farming to larger operations relying on commercial feed.
  • The shift away from family farming has led to a surge in imports of soybeans and feed ingredients, and USDA baseline projections point to an acceleration of that trend. (More on imports of soybeans, corn and pork in China Part 2.)

Until the late 20th century, the Chinese population obtained over 90% of its calories from carbohydrates like rice, wheat, millet, beans, and tubers. For decades, China took advantage of abundant non-grain feeds and underutilized labor resources to produce large increases in livestock output with little demand for feed grains. Impoverished farmers were eager to earn higher incomes by raising livestock. Small-scale “backyard” farmers relied on widely available crop residues, wastes, vegetation, and other biomass for feed, while under-employed family members provided the labor to collect and prepare feedstuffs and tend animals. Pigs could consume a variety of wastes, vegetation, and forages, and they supplied manure for use as organic fertilizer for grains and other crops.

Beginning in the 1980s, Chinese officials enacted measures to promote livestock production, including support for development of a feed-milling industry and subsidized imports of more productive animal breeds. Indicators of livestock productivity, including feed conversion ratios and days on feed, improved markedly.

Over the last 5 years, economic growth has absorbed surplus rural labor and rural wages began rising 15% to 20% annually. Labor scarcity, animal disease pressures, and rising living standards are prompting rural households to abandon “backyard” livestock production. More recently, livestock production has increasingly become a specialized farm enterprise, with farmers focusing on maximizing growth of animals, and substituting commercial feed for wastes and forages gathered from the countryside. The transition to larger-scale, capital-intensive modes of farming promotes the use of feed grains in place of traditional locally-sourced feeds.

China, with its large population, rapid economic growth, and anticipated dietary change, is expected to continue the trends of recent years, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service, although at a slower rate than in the previous decade. China’s population is expected to grow at a slow rate of 0.3 percent annually, but will increasingly reside in cities and towns. The urbanization rate has surpassed 50% and is expected to increase to over 63% by the 2023-2024 marketing year. Rising living standards and availability of a wider variety of foods from supermarkets, restaurants, and cafeterias for an urbanized population will promote dietary change and create opportunities for new foods to gain a foothold in the Chinese market.

Meat Consumption Rises

USDA expects China’s meat consumption to rise at a pace similar to the trend over the past decade. While pork plays a central role in China’s meat economy, poultry is also gaining in popularity, largely because it is cheaper than pork.

Per capita pork consumption is projected to rise 6.6 kg by 2023-2024, more than three times the increase in poultry (2.7 kg) and more than seven times the increase in beef (0.85 kg). However, poultry is projected to account for an increasing share of China’s meat consumption, with per capita consumption rising 2.4% annually during the next 10 years, compared to a 1.5% annual growth rate projected for per capita pork consumption. The USDA model does not account for fish and shellfish, an important source of protein in Chinese diet and increasing.

Constraints That Could Slow Growth of Meat Output…

The predominance of pork in China’s meat production and consumption is a legacy of traditional farming systems that are becoming problematic as the economy urbanizes and modernizes. Traditional backyard farming systems are now being replaced by larger scale farms that use grain-based feeds, but pigs still predominate. Manure is seldom used as fertilizer now, and its disposal has become a major environmental concern. Swine disease epidemics are a constant threat.

Many local officials who were rewarded for promoting pig production in earlier decades now view pig farms as a nuisance. Regulations and land use plans increasingly confine pig farms to designated areas away from human settlements, roads, markets and waterways.

In China Part 2, we’ll cover what this growing Chinese pork production means for increasing Chinese imports of soybeans, corn and pork.

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