Saturday, December 10, 2016

China Grain Output Falls--First Time Since 2003

China's National Bureau of Statistics has reported that the country's grain production fell during 2016. This is the first decline reported by the Bureau since 2003, breaking China's string of 12-straight increases in grain output. A senior statistician with the Bureau explained that the decline in output was the result of simultaneous declines in both area planted and yield. The Bureau estimates that 33 percent of the decrease in output was due to shrinking area planted and 67 percent was due to lower yields.

China 2016 grain production statistics

Area planted Yield Production

1000 ha kg/ha 1000 mt
Grain 113,028.2 5,452.1 616,239
Cereals 94,370.8 5,988.8 565,165
Corn 36,759.7 5,972.7 219,554
Rice 30,162.4 6,860.7 206,934
Wheat 24,186.5 5,327.4 128,850
Beans 9,710.5 1,781.0 17,294
Tubers 8,946.9 3,775.5 33,779
Other* 3,262.2 3,012.7 9,828
By season:

Summer grain 27632.4 5037.7 139,204
Early rice 5619.8 5832.4 32,777
Fall grain 79776.0 5568.8 444,258
*"other" grain numbers calculated.
note: China's definition of "grain" includes soybeans, other beans, and tubers, as well as cereal grains.

The decline in grain output was modest--down only 0.8 percent from last year--and the Bureau described the 2016 output of 616.34 million metric tons as an "abundant harvest." With China now suffering from a grain glut, there is less urgency to increase grain output [and perhaps less urgency for statisticians to report increases?]. The 12-straight increases in grain production during 2003-15 followed an alarming drop in output in 2003 that was accompanied by a surge in prices late that year. The 2016 output is still 35 percent larger than the output in 2002.

In historical context, China's grain output is six times the output in 1950 despite relatively little change in the amount of area planted in grain. In fact, the area planted in grain this year is roughly the same as reported in 1950. The area planted in grain in 2016 has rebounded since 2003 and is somehow at roughly the same level it has been over the last 65 years, despite massive urbanization, construction of industrial parks, highways, and diversion of agricultural land to fruit orchards, fish ponds, and other uses during the last two decades.

There are also some cycles evident in grain-planting. Area planted in grain surged as the country stabilized and reclaimed land during the 1950s, declined during the ironically-named "Great Leap Forward" of 1959-61, rose during the 1970s, fell when farmers were given freedom to plant what they wanted during the 1980s, and area fell sharply during the last grain glut of 1998-2003. A heavy policy emphasis on grain production from 2004 to 2015 resulted in relentless increases in grain planting even as housing estates spread across the countryside, rural-urban migration accelerated and other crops became more profitable than grain.

China may be about to enter another down-cycle in grain output as authorities seek to deal with bulging stockpiles of grain and environmental calamity. A structural adjustment program will shift land from corn to soybeans and fodder crops over five years, land contaminated with heavy metals will be retired, and land will be taken out of grain production in areas where underground aquifers have shrunk to alarming levels. The Bureau's statistician explained that the structural adjustment program of "corn to soybeans," "grain to fodder," and "grain to oil crops" was the main reason for the decline in grain area during 2016. Corn output fell 2.2 percent--less than many expected yet still accounting for most of the decline in grain output. Wheat output fell 1 percent and rice output fell 0.6 percent.

The statistician explained that the structural adjustment program also contributed to the decline in overall grain yield this year. The corn yield is 3.3 times the soybean yield, so switching area from corn to soybeans brings down the overall grain yield. Soybean area expanded 10.7 percent, he said (although the report did not reveal any soybean statistics).

The statistician also blamed widespread flooding and drought for the decline in grain yields during 2016. Heavy rains during the early summer flooded some fields and caused lodging of crops in southern regions, especially in Anhui and Hubei provinces. Southern provinces were also affected by extremely hot weather during mid-summer. Corn was affected by drought in parts of northeastern and northwestern provinces where irrigation was not available. According to the Bureau, 26.5 million hectares were "affected" by disasters during January-October this year, up 25.7 percent from last year. They say crops were lost entirely on 4.15 million hectares, 70 percent more than last year.

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