On November 2, the Ministry issued a document that prescribes an elaborate "corn structural adjustment" program to reduce corn production in environmentally fragile cold, arid, mountainous, and eroded areas on the fringes of the country's corn cultivation region. This "sickle region" encompasses the northeastern provinces, parts of northern China with falling water tables, mountainous areas of north central China, the deserts and grasslands of northwestern China, and mountainous and rocky areas of the southwestern provinces. This region is described as having low yields vulnerable to drought. It lacks irrigation facilities and has a "fragile agricultural ecology." According to the Ministry's document, the "sickle" region does not have a comparative advantage in corn.
The new plan calls for a legion of local officials to scurry out to the countryside to undo an economic and ecological disaster created by short-sighted self-sufficiency policies. A 70-percent increase in corn prices from 2003 to 2012 prompted an increase in corn-planting of 13-million-hectares--a 60-percent increase--that made corn the leading crop produced in China. This was helped along by cash subsidies for grain producers that began in 2004. In documents describing campaigns to boost alfalfa production, officials casually observe that farmers in arid northwestern provinces abandoned alfalfa when the government began giving out subsidies to grain producers. In fact, one of the objectives of the current campaign is to induce farmers to switch from corn to alfalfa.
Much like the U.S. dust bowl phenomenon in the 1930s, Chinese farmers responded to unusually high prices by plowing up grasslands, deserts, mountainsides, and marshes to plant corn in every nook and cranny they could find. Now, according to the Ministry of Agriculture document, China has a massive surplus of corn--the latest forecast is that the government will have to sop up about a fourth of the 2015 harvest--and severe erosion, desertification, degraded grassland, and saline farmland.
Sad-looking corn stalks planted in sand in northeastern China.
Like nearly all Chinese plans, the corn structural adjustment plan has multiple objectives, is unwieldy and filled with contradictions. The Ministry of Agriculture appeals to local officials to adopt a sense of "responsibility" and "urgency" to carry out the structural adjustment program, but it also insists that the corn surplus is only a temporary phenomenon. The Ministry insists that there is no need to reduce corn production in the "core" production regions where corn has a "comparative advantage." The corn adjustment plan calls for strengthening production capacity in these core regions (the core regions are not identified in this plan) in order "to maintain basic self-sufficiency in cereal grains." The document warns officials to have a long-term perspective, recognizing that growth of the livestock industry will continue to increase demand for corn as a feed grain.
The structural adjustment plan has a nuanced view of corn imports that reflects recent communist party dogma. The Ministry invokes the murky slogan of "two kinds of resources, two markets" which seems to imply that Chinese demand can be partially met by imports when necessary, but Chinese companies should have control over the supply chain and pricing of such imports. The corn structural adjustment document recommends "guiding" companies in their use of international resources and fostering the development of large multinational agribusiness companies. It calls for "making the best use of international trade rules," and building "a complete trade system that protects the interests of domestic producers and sustainable corn industry development." The plan suggests implementing a mechanism to regulate the flow of imports based on domestic and foreign supply and demand, and it calls for getting a grip on the pace and scale of imports.
The corn adjustment plan sets broad strategies for five sub-regions within the "sickle" region. Most call for shifting land from growing corn for grain to feed and fodder crops, other coarse grains, and bean crops. Emphasis on alfalfa, corn for silage, rape fodder, and yellow nut sedge reflects a related priority of finding feed sources for dairy cattle and other ruminants and another Ministry strategy of forming stronger links between cropping and livestock. The plan calls for reviving rotation of corn with bean crops that can fix nitrogen in the soil and rotating corn with alfalfa. Tree nuts and fruits, medicinal crops, and crops tolerant of drought, sand and short growing seasons are also advocated.
The plan is logical and potentially addresses serious problems. However, China's recent agricultural history is littered with failed clever-sounding "win-win" programs to launch crops like jatropha for biodiesel, sweet sorghum for ethanol, and "straw for beef" that failed and were quietly forgotten (until they were revived). While the Ministry's document insists that the program be market-driven, its emphasis on reviving traditional crops in fringe regions is moving against inertia and the market. For example, sorghum and millet were once widespread staple foods but they have become niche products in the 21st century Chinese food system. A big expansion of production of niche crops will result in depressed prices.
Complete translation of the document:
Ministry of agriculture guidance on corn structural adjustment in the “sickle” region
To departments concerned with agriculture, agricultural machinery, livestock, and state farm bureaus in Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Xinjiang, and the Xinjiang production corps:
In recent years, the central communist party committee gave a lot of attention to grain production by issuing a series of strong support policies and promoting increases in grain production each year to form a base for economic and social development. Currently, our country’s grain supply and demand are in balance, but structural contradictions have become evident. With the slowing of domestic consumption growth, pressure from imported substitute commodities and other influences, corn supply is much greater than demand, the corn inventory has greatly increased, and net returns to farmers have fallen. Based on this corn supply and demand situation and the actualities of production growth, it is necessary to improve the structure of crops and the regional layout to raise returns to farmers and develop production capacity in a sustainable manner.
The “sickle” region includes the cold areas of the northeast, the northern crop-livestock region, the northwestern arid sandstorm region, the Taihang Mountain range and southwestern rocky karst region, forming a curved belt running from the northeast to north China, southwest and northwest. This is the key region for adjusting the structure of corn production. This region is typically a dry land agricultural area with advantaged livestock production, fragile ecological environment, where corn production [yield?] is low and unstable. The recommendations for adjusting corn production structure in the “sickle” belt are offered to implement the central committee’s call for change in the mode of agricultural development and demand to improve the structure of agriculture, utilizing comparative advantage, advancing the integration of crops and livestock, promoting industrial upgrading, achieving steady increases in grain production, improving the quality and sustainability of development:
[note: below the document explains that corn area will be reduced only in marginal fringe regions; there will be no change in core production regions.]
First, effectively enhance recognition of the importance and urgency of adjusting corn production structure in the “sickle” belt.
Improving the corn production structure in the “sickle” belt is both appropriate and a strategic active adjustment.
1. Advancing “sickle” region corn structural adjustment is an important approach to raising the overall benefits of agriculture. In recent years, corn production increased rapidly in the “sickle” belt, the planting structure [consists largely of] a single crop, cropping and livestock are not linked, the integration of industry is relatively low, which influenced returns to crop producers and farmers’ income. We need to speed up adjustment of corn structure, build a reasonable crop rotation system, and achieve land use for crops that sustains the land. Push forward the integration of cropping and livestock, implement “grain to fodder”, increase value added from land, and maximize returns. Advance the integration of primary, secondary, and tertiary industries, extend industry chains, create supply chains to market products, form complete industry chains, promote agricultural value added and farmer income growth.
2. Push forward “sickle” region corn structural adjustment as a practical choice for raising the production capacity in a sustainable way. Northern water scarcity [problems are] concentrated in the “sickle” region, and it is a key region in the “grain for green” program to retire cropland and return it to forest and grassland. In recent years, there have been soil erosion and desertification among other serious problems due to corn production’s rapid expansion. Resource constraints and production conflicts are prominent. It is necessary to change the mode of development, adjust cropping structure, appropriately reduce corn planting in a few areas lacking an advantage, and follow the road of resource-conserving, ecologically-friendly and sustainable agricultural development.
3. Advancing “sickle” region corn structural adjustment is a measure that strengthens agricultural competitiveness. With the global economy slow, petroleum prices falling, deep processing weak and other factors, the international market for corn is characterized by loose supply and falling prices. Our country is affected by rising production cost and other factors. Our corn price has risen steadily and domestic and foreign corn prices have become decoupled from each other. With these influences, imports of corn and corn substitutes increased rapidly, putting relatively great pressure on domestic corn production. In response to this trend, it is necessary to adjust the corn planting structure, ease the current pressure from domestic corn inventories, and raise agriculture’s international competitiveness.
Scientific analysis of corn issues and rational judgments must fully acknowledge that corn makes an important contribution to the annual growth in grain production and maintaining national food security. At the same time, we must also make a correct judgment of the long-term trend in corn supply, especially that the current increase in inventories is temporary, corn is a major energy feed, and demand is on a long-term increasing trend. Currently, advancing the “sickle” region corn structural adjustment mainly is to reduce production in regions that don’t have a (comparative) advantage. There is no (need for) adjustment in core advantaged regions, and in fact we need to further strengthen production capacity in the core regions with a comparative advantage in corn in order to maintain basic self-sufficiency in cereals. Each region certainly should pay attention to the overall pattern and strategy, strengthening their sense of responsibility and urgency, correctly grasping the focus and direction of structural adjustment, adjusting the pattern of industrial use of corn, promoting corn production sustainable steady development.
Second, conceptual targets and key tasks for “sickle” region corn structural adjustment
1. Guiding thoughts
Deepen implementation of the third, fourth, and fifth plenums of the 18th party congress and the spirit of important speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping, seriously deploying the national food security strategy under new trends, guided by market demand, with quality and efficiency as objectives, adhering to ecological protection as a priority, strengthening policy support, relying on innovation in science and technology, strengthening information guidance, respecting the wishes of farmers, speeding up the joint development of grain, economic crops, and feed/livestock, integrated crops and livestock, industry integration, modern agricultural industry system, focusing on raising the market competitiveness of agricultural commodities, following a sustainable development road that is characterized by efficiency, product safety, resource conservation, and is environmentally friendly.
2. Basic principles
Adhere to consideration of local conditions; where there is pressure, give protection. Consider the overall resource endowments of the “sickle” region, regional advantages, market environment, industry base and other factors, protect advantaged industry areas, reduce planting in non-advantaged areas, develop comparative advantaged commodities and industries, tighten the integration between corn planting structure and breeding/propagation regions, eliminate duplicative industry development that compete with each other, shift resources toward advantaged industries, advantaged products and competitive advantage.
Adhere to guidance by the market, respect farmers’ wishes. Fully bring into play the market’s decisive role in resource allocation with guidance by market demand for diversified and quality products through regulatory guidance, information guidance, policy support, rational allocation of commodity structure. Respect farmers wishes and rights as primary business operators, raising services and demonstration guidance, do not use force to make everybody go along, fully mobilize the enthusiasm of each producer.
Adhere to simultaneous development of multiple industries, advancing integration of industries. According to the commodity self-sufficiency level and production priority, with marketing determining production, livestock determining crops, creating a whole industry chain. Reduce corn for grain, [instead] developing corn silage where appropriate, corn for fresh [human] consumption, integrate other ecologically suitable crops and quality fodder crops, scientifically advance integration of crops and livestock, production and processing. Actively develop pre-production and post-production services, extend industry chains, increase value-added.
Adhere to innovation as a driver, promote quality growth. Increase investment in scientific research, links between research institutes and industry, coordination, breakthrough technologies for structural adjustment, propagate major scientific achievements, promote water-saving, fertilizer-saving, pesticide-saving and other high-production, efficient technologies and disseminate them, strengthening industry’s capacity to develop its own technology. Innovate in modes of production operations, foster new-type operators as the core, develop agricultural socialized services, use demonstration [model farming districts] to pull along structural adjustment and guide industry upgrading.
Adhere to a global vision, ensure industry security. Fully utilize international and domestic resources, two markets [foreign and domestic markets], establish industry alert mechanisms. Make best use of international agricultural trade rules, establish a complete trade management system that protects farmers’ returns and sustainable development of corn production. Guide domestic enterprises in allocation of resources in the international market, industry layout, foster internationally competitive large agribusiness conglomerates.
3. Key tasks
Strive to stabilize corn area in the “sickle” region at 100 million mu (6.67 million hectares) by 2020, a decrease of 50 million mu (3.3 million hectares) or more from current area, focusing on developing corn for silage, soybeans, high-quality forages [e.g. alfalfa], other coarse grains [e.g. sorghum, millet, barley] and beans [mung beans, etc], spring wheat, fruit orchards and tree crops and ecological functional plants, pushing forward closer integration of crops and livestock, deeper integration of industries, promoting increases in agricultural returns and upgrading of industry. First, form an integrated layout with spatial and temporal matching. Utilize each region’s climate, production level, and industrial foundation, scientifically guide agricultural structural adjustments in each region. Second, form a structure that integrates crops and livestock. Improve the cropping structure, push forward grain and bean rotation and ecologically friendly cultivation systems, establish land use models that integrate the use of land and maintenance of its fertility, promote regional sustainable agricultural development in regions. Third, form an integrated crop and livestock structure. Realize the full potential of fodder production, greatly develop grazing livestock industry, form grain and grass integration, integration of crops and livestock, circular development new-style crop-livestock structure, promote a three-pronged integrated structure with coordinated production of grain crops, economic crops, and fodder crops. Fourth, form an integrated production-processing-marketing industry structure. Establish corn production bases for fresh consumption, feed-use and other specialized uses, focusing on developing processing, logistics, and service business, lengthening industry chains and adding value.
A focus of the structural adjustment objectives in the “sickle” region is to advance “six adjustments.” One is appropriateness of adjustments. The focus is on reducing corn in regions with high elevation and arid/drought areas, switching to drought-resistant coarse grains, beans, and short-season corn for silage. Second, adjustments that integrate development of crops and livestock. The focus is on balancing grain and forage, reducing seed corn, developing corn for silage and alfalfa, crops that maintain the soil, changing “granary” to “granary” + “meat storehouse” + “milk cans”. Third is ecological protection-type adjustment. The key is to reduce corn area in rocky-soil (? In SW China) regions, switch to ecologically-sustainable fruit, mulberries, tea, and medicinal crops, forages, and yellow nutsedge for feed and oil use, while protecting the ecological environment, promoting growth in farmers’ income. Fourth, is integrated adjustment that plants crops that maintain the soil. The focus is reviving rotation of soybeans and corn in the northeastern region, while developing rotation of corn and alfalfa, winter wheat and summer peanuts (bean-type) cropping in north China, letting beans play their role of fixing nitrogen in the soil. Fifth, is adjustments that protect where there is pressure. The focus is on stabilizingcorn in core regions, reducing northern crop-livestock area, northwestern arid loess region, southwest rocky region where corn does not have a comparative advantage, especially reduce corn in the fifth temperature zones and part of the fourth temperature zones in Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. Sixth, adjustment around the market. The focus is on the leadership role of dragon head enterprises and new-type farm operators, implementing contracting for crops that maintain soil quality and integrating production with processing and marketing.
Key regions for “sickle” regional corn structural adjustment
Grasp the focus and direction of structural adjustment in five regions with overall consideration of the natural environment, the agricultural structure, level of production development, returns from substitute crops from structural adjustment potential and feasibility.
Northeastern cold zone
Regional characteristics: this region has high altitude, cold climate, including the fourth and fifth temperature zones in northern Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia and mountainous areas of eastern Jilin Province, with cumulative temperature above 10C of 1900-2300 degrees C, long winters, short summers, just 90 or more frost-free days, large diurnal temperature variation, agricultural products vulnerable to freezing, early frost. Soil is compacted due to many years of continuous corn production, residues from herbicides are a serious problem, affecting yield growth and improvement of quality.
Direction: through market guidance and policy support, let corn area decline while expanding grain-bean rotation and “grain to forage”. In Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and Jilin integrated region greatly develop corn silage production based on the needs of livestock industry development, expand rapeseed planting, develop alfalfa and other forages, meeting the needs of the livestock for quality feed. Revive grain and bean rotation models to restore the traditional role of soybeans in the northeast region. Develop quality strong-gluten wheat, establish hard red spring wheat production bases. Strive to reduce corn for grain area by 10 million mu or more by 2020.
Northern crop-livestock region
Regional features: this region is a transition zone between the cropping region and the ecological grassland region, encompassing Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hebei, Shaanxi and Gansu Provinces. It has a semi-arid, semi-humid climate, abundant soil resources, plenty of sunshine, but water resources are short, there is soil desertification, frequent serious natural disasters, including mainly droughts with wide impact.
Direction: the four northeastern provinces traditional advantage is combining livestock development with soybeans, peanuts, coarse grains and beans developing corn silage and grain-bean rotation, peanut, other coarse grain production as the main crops, while also actively developing fodder crops and rape for forage; in northern Hebei and northern Shanxi and central Inner Mongolia develop drought-tolerant coarse grains and beans, potatoes, forestry and fruit orchards. In Shaanxi and Gansu crop-livestock region develop mainly coarse grains and beans, and forage rape where conditions are suitable; in ecologically weak regions, actively develop salt- and drought-tolerant crops that grow in sand. Strive to reduce corn for grain to 30 million mu or more by 2020.
Northwestern arid region
Regional features: this region is the inland northwest, the broad region north of the Kunlun mountains, Altyn mountain range, Qilian mountains, Baiyu mountains, and Daqing mountains, including Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia. It has an arid desert climate with little rain, abundant sunshine, large-night-day temperature differences, cumulative temperature above 10 degrees C 2800-4400 degrees C, 115-210 frost-free days, but water resources are scarce, oasis desertification, salinization is severe, grazing lands are degraded, the agricultural ecological system is fragile.
Direction: fully utilize abundant sunlight resource, focus on expanding water-fertilizer integration and other efficient water-saving measures. In the Hexi corridor where the irrigation system is relatively good, develop corn and other crop industries; in Ningxia, Inner Mongolia river irrigation region, gradually reduce planting of high water-consuming corn, develop flax, sunflower, forage rape and other crops with low water requirements. In ecologically fragile regions, actively develop salt- and drought-resistant yellow nutsedge for fodder and oil and other sand-tolerant plants. In Xinjiang develop corn for silage and alfalfa production, meeting the demand for quality livestock feed. Strive to reduce corn for grain production to 5 million mu by 2020.
Along the Taihang Mountain range
Regional features: this region is south of Wutai Mountains, north of Funiu mountains, including eastern Shanxi. The climate is cool, from north to south it ranges from semi-arid to sub-humid, cumulative rainfall is 500-650 mm, elevation is high in the north and low in the south, with an elevation of 800-1000 meters. Mainly dryland agriculture, accounting for 80% or more of land, shallow soil, severe soil erosion. Agricultural infrastructure is poor, irrigation facilities are inadequate, droughts occur frequently, corn production is low and unstable.
Direction: Greatly develop drought-resistant coarse grains and beans and short-season corn for silage. Develop valley economy, promote chestnut, walnut, hawthorn, vegetables, medicinal crops, and integrated agricultural processing industry and leisure services, raise the efficiency of agricultural production. Strive to reduce corn for grain production to 2 million mu by 2020.
Southwestern rocky soil region
Regional features: East of the Hengduan mountains, west of Dayao mountains, mainly including the Yunnan and Guizhou plateau, including Guangxi, Yunnan, and Guizhou Provinces. Climate is temperate and sub-tropical, semi-humid, hydrothermal conditions are relatively good, 80% or more of land is hilly and mountainous or plateaus at elevations from 500 to 2500 meters, terrain is rugged. Sunshine is relatively poor, droughts occur commonly in the spring, summer and fall. The terrain is complex, not well-suited to large-scale farming or mechanization. Karst rocky formations are widespread and severe rocky soil desertification, the agricultural ecological system is fragile.
Direction: combine implementation of the national land retirement to forest and grassland policy, reduce corn planting on mountainsides and areas that lack irrigation, actively develop other coarse grains and beans, tea, walnuts, Camellia oleifera, medicinal crops, improve grass on moutainsides, develop hemp and mulberry for feed use, yellow nutsedge for oil and feed, and support development of grass for livestock. By 2020 strive to reduce corn for grain to 5 million mu.
Measures to advance corn structural adjustment in the “sickle” region
Corn structural adjustment in the “sickle” region is a kind of systemic project, needing coordination, strong guidance, great effort, advancing practice, mobilizing enthusiasm from diverse players, forming a long-term mechanism for agricultural production development.
First, strengthen top-level design. “Sickle” region corn structural adjustment is a long-term task that needs coordinated planning and good guidance with strong but orderly advancement. Provincial agriculture departments must establish structural adjustment leadership organizations, clarify tasks and duties, strengthen coordinated guidance, implement policy measures, particularly combining local actualities, setting feasible structural adjustment programs, clarifying adjustment direction and focus, scientific layout, rational planning, pushing forward structural adjustment based on local conditions. Establish a complete coordination mechanism, set a schedule for work flow, coordinate and address problems encountered.
Second, strengthen policy support. “Sickle” region corn structural adjustment involves the interests of government, rural people, and companies, and needs greater policy support effort, with support from local government being the main force in pushing structural adjustment, encouraging large farmers, cooperatives, dragon head enterprises to participate. Improve price policies. Strengthen communication and coordination among departments, improve corn reserve purchase and soybean target price policies, stabilize returns to crops, mobilize farmers production enthusiasm. Improve subsidy policies. Research establishment of rational aid policies for crop rotation systems, implement the combination of planting and maintenance of soil. Improve financial policies. Strengthen coordination between all types of financial institutions, actively innovate agricultural financial products and services, guide and encourage financial capital to participate in agricultural structural adjustment. Through establishing a credit guarantee system, support new-style agricultural operations in “grain changed to fodder”, develop modern grazing industry, promote combination of crops and livestock. At the same time, must strengthen production area infrastructure construction, protecting core production capacity.
Third, advance scientific innovation. “Sickle” region corn structural adjustment needs scientific innovation, strengthen technological support. Greatly expand cropping science and technology innovation, based on the needs of corn structural adjustment, accelerating breeding of corn varieties for silage, high-protein soybean varieties, breeding potential high-yielding, high-quality coarse grains and fodder crops. Greatly expand integration of technological innovation, improve cropping system, cultivation methods and related equipment, integrate support for changing corn for grain to corn for silage, corn changed to forage crops, corn changed to other coarse grains, corn changed to soybeans and other planting models, suitably screened herbicides for use in grain and soybean rotation.
Fourth, strengthen demonstration guidance. “Sickle” belt has a broad geographic span and many commodities, needs stronger services and information to guide and make sure corn structural adjustment tasks are accomplished. Each region must set a technology program based on local conditions, recommend marketable high value varieties, guide corn structural improvement, actively adjust special features, make efforts for deep adjustment. Combine development of green high-yield models, concentrate a set of corn structural adjustment technology models, focus on creating a set of yield-increasing, efficient, quality, and sustainable demonstration districts. Greatly advance combination of agriculture and livestock, increase “grain changed to fodder” aid, expand scope of pilots, with combination of crops and livestock, pulling along the region’s crop structure adjustment.
Fifth, promote industry operations. “Sickle” region corn structural adjustment not only is reduction of area but even more is upgrading of industry. Greatly foster new-type business operators, focusing on fostering large farmers, family farms, farmer cooperatives, playing a demonstration role in expanding scale, standardization, and mechanization. Greatly support dragon head enterprises, focusing on fostering a set of agricultural industrialized enterprises with strength, credibility, and tight contacts, speeding up the leadership of large companies, medium and small companies, new-type business operators business mechanisms, pushing forward contract production, integrated production and marketing, processing, aiding structural adjustment and industry upgrades. Especially, we must support development of large livestock farming, processing industry and fodder enterprises, pulling along “grain to fodder” and combination of crops and livestock.
Strengthen market adjustment. Establish statistical monitoring system, strengthen monitoring of key links in corn production, consumption, import-export, storage and transportation, setting up a complete long-term corn supply and demand volume balancing mechanism, market monitoring and alert mechanism and association-commercial information mechanism, correctly grasping dynamics of the corn market in a timely manner. Strengthen market adjustment, improve corn reserve adjustment system, improve the layout of reserves, establish a mechanism for injecting grain into the market and rotating reserves. Strengthen adjustment of imports and exports based on the domestic and foreign market supply and demand situation, get a grip on the pace and scale of corn imports. Increase enforcement of grain smuggling, protect domestic corn producers’ profits. Strengthen propaganda, guide the general public to adjust their dietary structure, increase guidance of scientific use of grain, conserve the use of grain.
Ministry of Agriculture, November 2, 2015