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China looks for corn elsewhere

Agriculture.com Staff Updated: 10/22/2012 @ 1:02pm

China is headed for its second straight record corn harvest, says the U.S. Grains Council, which recently returned from a tour of China's fields.

Due to the lack of data on China's corn acreage, USGC doesn't estimate China's total corn crop. But based on yield samples from fields in the major growing areas, USGC expects the 2012 harvest to rise about 5 to 6 million metric tons above the 2011 record, or about 3 percent.

That's roughly in line with USDA's estimates, which call for 200 million tons this year after 192.8 million tons last year.

USGA, which promotes U.S. feed grains around the world, hosted about 30 market analysts, government officials, Chinese feed processors and U.S. farmers on its sixteenth annual China tour September 10-28. USGC, which has been active in China for 30 years, also visited Chinese cornfields earlier in the year to check on planting and early growing conditions.

During the September tour, they evaluated about 300 field samples from China's two main corn regions: the Northeast, which is north of Korea, and the North China Plain, which generally is the area around and south of Beijing. After returning to the United States, USGC members discussed the tour at a Washington news conference.

The tour used customary yield-estimating procedures of counting row spacing and plant spacing, along with rows per ear and kernels per row. Because of the sensitive nature of working with China's government and industry, the USGC has not released yield data. But Michigan farmer Ed Breitmeyer reported surveying fields in northeast China that produced 18,000 to 22,000 plants per acre, with a few up to 25,000.

Overall, the corn growing season was good, with few problems that impacted yields. The tour took pictures of tall green corn that was completely laid over by typhoons in August. But because the stalks didn't break and because 70 to 90 percent of China's corn is harvested by hand or small machines, the corn was salvageable. Armyworms and other pests were also reported in China's crop, with minimal impact.

China's northeast region produces just under 40 percent of the country's corn, and is similar in nature to the northern U.S. Corn Belt, says USGC CEO Tom Sleight. This past spring, it saw a slight increase in corn and peanut acres at the expense of soybeans, he said.

To the southwest, the North China Plain is similar to the western Plains, says Sleight. This plain of rich soil deposited by the Yellow River produces about 40 percent of China's corn crop. Corn and peanut acres increased there too this year, at the expense of cotton.

USGC has been touring China's cornfields since 1996, when China was a major corn exporter. But thanks to growing demand for meat from a wealthier urban middle-class, China keeps its corn at home to feed to livestock (mostly hogs and poultry) and for its expanding dairy sector. China also imports corn, and USGC predicts modest imports in the coming year, possibly to maintain reserves. USDA agrees, pegging China's corn 2012-13 imports at 2 million metric tons, down from 5.3 million last year. USDA sees a modest buildup in China's corn carryover from 59.6 million tons this September to 60.2 million tons by next September.

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