Corn overtakes rice as diners continue to move to meat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 4:31am

The mainland produced more corn than rice for the first time on record in the 2012-13 season, as surging incomes fuelled demand for meat, prompting farmers to focus more on animal feed.

The chart of the week shows the mainland's output of corn - the main ingredient used in feed - rose to a record 208 million tonnes in the latest harvest season, beating the 204 million tonnes in rough-rice production, according to data compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The lower panel tracks swine-meat consumption in the mainland, which the USDA forecasts will reach a record 52.6 million tonnes in 2013.

"Consumers' surging protein consumption is driving farmers to grow more corn, while the consumption of rice and wheat is more stable," says Zhang Zhixian, an analyst at, a Henan-based researcher owned by China Grain Reserves, caretaker of state granaries.

As urbanisation continues, rural residents "will eat more like city folks" by consuming more meat, poultry and dairy instead of basic cereals, he says.

While rising corn output gives China's market a "fragile balance," further expansion is constrained by the lack of additional farmland, Zhang says.

A season of bad weather could "easily upset the balance", boosting China's purchases in global markets, similar to what happened in 2010 after a drought in the northeast provinces, he says.

In 2010 China bought 1.3 million tonnes of corn, making it a net importer for the first time in more than a decade, USDA data shows.

Imports jumped to a record of 5.2 million tonnes in the marketing year which ended on September 30, according to the USDA.