Note: China does not allow access to either Facebook or WordPress. If you’re reading this, that means we found a way to get the blog posted. However, pictures will have to wait until we get home. Sorry.
Today is Friday…I think. It’s getting hard to tell; this trade delegation to China is kind of like wheat harvest: after a while, you forget what day it is.
For most of the day we were on a bus through the Lioaning Province, one of the most aggressive agricultural and natural resources-rich provinces in China. We’ve visited a bull station, a dairy farm, and boar stud operation on our journey. But for me, what we saw on the highway between Shenyang and Changchun is a more interesting story.
Fields of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, marigolds and rice are plentiful. Massive coal-fire power plants, and huge wind turbines dot the landscape, yet we’ve also seen fields of corn in which the stover is placed neatly in windrows; for many farm families, this will be heating fuel this winter.
We are in awe of the amount of truck traffic on this highway, which stretches from Shenyang to our hotel in Changchun. A constant stream of semi-trucks cover two lanes of traffic each way, carry a dizzying array of goods, including new cars, tractors, and rice harvesters. Yet, in fields adjacent to the road, it’s not uncommon for mothers and fathers pick corn by hand, placing the ears into motorcycle-driven carts. New BMWs and Buicks whizz by our caravan on the highway, but outlying roads and communities still have carts still being pulled by mules.
Simply put, China is a land of contrasts and wonderment.
There are huge areas of working class people who receive 2.5 hectares (about 5.5 acres) of land from the government and are free to grow and sell what they wish. These families may make $800 per year. But they have a home, some money and some food. Life is simple.
In the cities like Beijing, Shenyang and even the relatively small Changchun (population 2.5 million), traffic is non-stop, housing is expensive and the life is fast-paced. Yet these urbanites have choices of food, dining, shopping; they have opportunity. Life is more complex.
We have heard more than once that keeping its people well-fed is the Chinese government’s Number 1 priority. A nation with this many people demands massive amounts of food. As the population becomes more affluent, they crave quality, quantity, variety and consistency. Meat-based protein is playing an ever-increasing role in their diets.
Most of the country’s livestock production is in this Liaoning Province, yet animals are hauled 1000 miles south of here to be processed in Shanghai or Beijing. There are massive amounts of corn, yet the grain handling system is antiquated. Farmers harvest the crop wet, drying it out on the roofs of their government-issue homes. There are dairies and processing plants, but the feed ration used by dairy cows doesn’t appear to be high-quality; goodness, alfalfa must be shipped in from the states. (Fields of marigolds are used as cattle feed, according to Kansas Dept. of Agriculture’s J.J. Jones.
What we’ve learned, then, is that China cannot keep pace with its growing population. While food is not scarce yet, many of the traditional “Mom and Pop” farm operations are dying, as kids move to the city for a different way of life. China has a small community of top-notch agriculture research institutes and service providers, but they can not yet handle the quantity of product (reproductive products in livestock) or keep pace with crop yields (in the case of corn, soy and sorghum) to keep up with demand.
The government’s emphasis is on finding partners to not only do trade with China, but help China’s farmers use available technology in the crop and animal sectors to boost yields. They need processors and packers, mills and food companies, to further grow the nation’s agriculture industry.
In this trade delegation, Secretary Dale Rodman, Marketing Director J.J. Jones and intern Kassie Curran have showcased Kansas agriculture to many folks in this important region. It’s not difficult to imagine that Kansas has a tremendous role to play in shaping China’s future.
Tomorrow we travel back to Shenyang, and begin our day-long journey back to Kansas. Next week I’ll recap the delegation’s visit and share pictures from this important tour.