China's agricultural sector was relatively weak during August 2016, according a monthly report on rural economic conditions by the Ministry of Agriculture. Agricultural prices are generally weak, livestock numbers are stagnant or declining, and growth in rural migrant wages is slowing. The MOA report warns that pressure from slowing economic growth and pressure on businesses dims the outlook for the rural economy.
China's agricultural prices rebounded in August from July, but they were still lower than a year ago. The index of wholesale prices for agricultural prices was down 4.3 percent from the same period last year, and the "market basket" price index (vegetables, fruit, meat, milk) was down 4.9 percent from a year ago. The two indexes increased 2.5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from July to August.
The MOA report warns of further downward pressure on farm prices as the fall harvest approaches. The early rice crop harvested this summer was estimated by the National Bureau of Statistics at 32.775 million metric tons, down 2.7 percent from last year due to lower planted area. The fall grain harvest conditions are overall favorable, despite some effects of flooding and isolated drought conditions in some areas. The pest situation is overall stable. MOA warns that corn and rice prices could both decline under pressure from big harvests this fall.
Livestock prices are generally weak in China. Beef prices were down 5 percent from the same period last year, lamb prices were down 6 percent, and milk prices were down 4.8 percent from a year ago. Pork prices peaked in June and are still at an historically high level, but they are now declining. The average live hog price peaked at 20.8 yuan/kg in June, and fell 10 percent by the last week in August. The pork price fell 5.1 percent over two months. Hog producers are enjoying high net returns, but they are cautious about expanding, according to the MOA report. The sow inventory is down 3.5 percent from last year. MOA's monitoring shows the number of hogs being slaughtered is still low. Dairy cattle inventories are down 10.2% from a year ago, which MOA attributes to low milk prices and pressure from imported milk powder. Egg prices rebounded after a string of five monthly declines. Returns to laying hens rebounded and farmers are expanding flocks again.
Agricultural imports were down and exports were up, narrowing China's agricultural trade deficit during August. The volume of cereal grain imports during January-July plummeted 30 percent from the same period last year. Imports of corn and corn substitutes were down 40 percent. Cotton imports for January-July were down 38 percent and sugar imports were down 37 percent. Soybean imports totaled 46.3 mmt for January-July, up 3.7 percent from the same period last year.
China's imports of meat and milk were up, prompted by cheaper prices of imports. The volume of pork imports more than doubled, and beef imports were up 50.8 percent, and milk powder imports were up 30 percent for January-July versus a year ago. China's exports of vegetable, fruit, and fish were up in value terms.