FSE senior fellow Scott Rozelle on China's ability to meet increasing demand

OMAHA (DTN) -- China is the world's No. 1 producer and consumer of pork and poultry, producing more than five times the pork raised in the U.S. and 80 percent as much poultry. With its economic growth and increasing middle class, it is inevitable that meat consumption will rise.

The question is: Will China be able to continue to boost production sufficiently to meet that demand? The answer has implications for U.S. grain and meat producers.

"Rapidly rising incomes will have wrenching effects on the demand for food," said Scott Rozelle, agricultural economist at Stanford University. "As increasingly well-off consumers get fewer of their calories from rice and wheat, they will demand more from high-value products such as meat, fish, dairy and fruit. Urbanization has similar impacts, dampening the demand for rice and wheat and raising the demand for meat, fish, dairy and fruit. Trying to meet these rising -- and shifting -- demands will pose a large challenge."

Most importantly, given the great constraints China faces in arable land and water, the government has chosen to focus its agriculture in two ways: staple food crops such as rice and oilseeds and value-added products, said Francis Tuan, with USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service. It is aiming for a high percentage of self-sufficiency in staples to ensure its population doesn't go hungry. On the other hand, it wants to garner as much economic growth from agricultural production as possible.

"China is exporting more labor-intensive fruits and vegetables and higher-value commodities, while it is importing more land-intensive agricultural commodities, such as soybeans, cotton, sugar and dairy," Rozelle added. "These shifts are obviously more in line with China's comparative advantage."

One example of that trend is China's purchases of raw soybeans to be crushed in China for oil. Another is some farmers leaving crop production to focus on livestock.