Alliger: China ag ‘wants to be like Iowa’
By LARRY KERSHNER
FORT DODGE – China will continue to be a positive influence on Iowa ag exports as the country transitions its populace from rural to urban areas.
Larry Alliger 17, a Gowrie-area farmer, was part of a 17-member Iowa Farm Bureau group that traveled on June 30 for a 10-day stay in China.
“China is an interesting country,” Alliger said. “It’s huge with 1.3 billion people.”
He said the country is changing from an agrarian culture to urban.
“They want 70 percent of their people by 2030 in urban areas,” Alliger said. “That will require moving 10 million people annually into cities.
“That’s like building three Chicagos each year.”
As a result, with fewer people producing food, China will continue needing to import ag products, Alliger said, especially soybeans, pork and beef, all three key products they can buy from Iowa.
At the same time, he said, the country wants to improve its farming technology, such as drip-irrigation and modern dryers and efficiencies.
“They want to be like Iowa,” Alliger said. “There’s a drive in China to get people to invest in agriculture because they want to be self-sufficient.”
He said China imports U.S. pork and beef and it wants to import larger quantities in the future.
On one 1,800-acre farm, he said, the owner/manager had erected a grain bin with a dryer because (the farmer) was expecting to get his first combine.
Combines were rare, he said.
“Almost all the corn is picked, dried on the ear and shelled during the winter,” Alliger said.
China raises enough rice and wheat to sustain its population, Alliger said. South of Beijing farmers double-crop wheat followed by corn.
North of Beijing it’s all corn.
And mentioning genetically engineered corn created animated conversations, he said.
“They don’t like GMO corn,” he said. “GMO soybeans are not as much of a problem, because it’s fed through livestock first.
“But they don’t trust GMO corn because it may get directly into the food chain.”
He said a basic mistrust in the country’s food safety system is typical among consumers.
“They don’t have the food supply system controls that we do,” he said.
The challenge, he said, is there’s not enough refrigeration or roads developed to get timely delivery of fruit and vegetables from fields to tables.
“But they’re working on it,” Alliger said. “They’re pouring a lot of concrete.”
Concerning China’s ban on MIR-162, Sygenta’s Viptera corn trait to control stalk and root damage from several types of pests, Alliger said, “Every panel we talked with had women on them.
“They asked, ‘Do you feed your kids GMO grains?’ We said, ‘Yes,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we could never do that.'”
Later during Thursday’s meeting, Alliger said, China’s MIR-162 ban was to protect its own corn industry.
With a surplus of 10 billion bushels, he said, China needed a way to restrict foreign corn coming into the country.
China does not import farm equipment or cars, Alliger said. “They have a lot of people to keep employed.
“If John Deere wants to get big in China, it’ll have to open a manufacturing facility there.”
He said the tour included visiting ag processing plants – one made pharmaceutical products from ear corn and the other ag chemicals.
One line was bottling herbicides in pint-size bottles.
“We never saw a (self-propelled) sprayer,” Alliger said. Rather, spraying was done manually, with people carrying ag chemicals in backpacks with spray wands through fields.
The group toured one farm in Changchun that manages 1,800 acres, with 35 employees. One of the biggest farms in China, Alliger said.
The fields were in continuous corn production.
The biggest machinery he said he saw were 20 4-row pickers. Some of the planters were four-rows, but mostly were two rows.
The farm keeps a dozen sows for meat for the farm workers. The government subsidizes corn at $9/bushel.
Last year the farm averaged 245 bushels per acre, Alliger said. The cost of inputs was similar to Iowa.
All the corn was harvested for cattle feed and residue for heating sources.
He said he saw no co-op elevators, only government-run food processing facilities and grain storage.
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