Two Sessions: Seeds, Breeding Animals is Chinese Agriculture’s Key Bottleneck

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Chinese top politicians are facing a tough bottleneck issue, how to develop China’s stock of seeds and breeding animals, at the two sessions—the Chinese Communist Party’s most important annual political conference from March 4 to 11.

“China faces a similar dilemma in the seeds and breeding animals industries as it does with semiconductor chips,” China News Weekly reported on March 9.

China is calling seeds and breeding animals the “chips of agriculture.” With semiconductor chips, the country currently relies on advanced technologies that are imported. Its biggest telecommunication manufacturer, Huawei, lost 5.6 percent of its market share in the smartphones industry in the third quarter of 2020 after the United States started banning exports to China, according to U.S. headquartered market research company IDC.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping admitted to the shortages in the two sectors in December last year.

Top Priority

An Iowan farmer with Dekalb brand corn seeds, which is a Subsidiary of Monsanto, in this file photo. (Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)Developing the seeds and breeding animal industries, and completing with the industries in developed countries, will be one of Xi’s top priorities for the nation this spring.

Central government authorities released the No. 1 Central Government Document on Feb. 21, in which Xi ordered nationals to modernize the seed industry, and improve the genetics of livestock and poultry.

On March 5, Chinese premier Li Keqiang asked the government to “ensure the safety of seeds and breeding animals” as he gave the government working report at the two sessions meeting. This was the fourth point in a list of nine requests.

Recently, Li has made numerous mention of the importance of the seeds and breeding animals. On March 2, he emphasized the importance of developing China’s seeds and breeding animal stock, and pork production at the National Spring Agricultural Working Video Conference.

On March 5, Chinese Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Tang Renjian also said at the two sessions’ press conference that Xi had ordered the regime to work hard on developing China’s seeds and breeding animals industries into one that is independent of the global market.

Tang promised that his ministry would “work together with other related government agents to make an action plan for the seeds and breeding animals industries.

“We will try our best to achieve a major breakthrough within 10 years,” he said.

He also talked about the gap between China and developed countries in the agricultural sector.

“The corn and soybeans’ productivities of China developed seeds is only 60 percent of the imported seeds from developed countries,” Tang said. He added, “The breeding white-feather broilers’ grandparents mainly rely on importing.”

China raised and consumed 4.4 billion white-feather broilers in 2019, which made up 26 percent of the market, according to the China Animal Agriculture Association (CAAA). The CAAA is a non-profit independent organization that represents the over 200 million Chinese farmers in China, and is under the management of the Chinese Civil Affairs Ministry, according to its website.

Tang claimed that China can survive without imported seeds and breeding animals, although the quality of the local products are not as good as the imported ones.

But the real situation of China’s seeds and breeding animals is worse than Tang’s claims.

Bad Situation

State-run China News Weekly reported: “China is the world’s largest pork consumer as well as pig producer. Chinese people eat 700 million pigs every year, and feed half of the pigs in the world … However, 90 percent of pigs in China are the pedigree of imported breeds.”

The report then interviewed deputy chair of CAAA Li Jinghui, who said Chinese pig breeds can’t compete with the Duroc pig from the United States, the Danish Landrace pig, or the Yorkshire pig from the United Kingdom, which China calls the “DLY” breeds.

The DLY breeds are fully grown in six months, but Chinese breeds need over a year to reach full size. They eat about 2.5 pounds of feed to gain one pound in weight, while Chinese breeds eat over four pounds of feed to gain one pound in weight. About 40 percent of the adult DLY pigs are fat, while 60 percent of Chinese breeds are fat. Consumers prefer lean meat over fat.

Unable to compete with imported breeds, Chinese domestic pig breeds are dying.

“China had 90 domestic pig breeds … 37 of them are extinct, almost extinct, or endangered,” state-run Xinhua reported on Feb. 28.

“China imported 20,000 breeding pigs in 2020, … which make up six percent of breeding pigs in China,” China News Weekly quoted from official numbers. The remaining 94 percent of breeding pigs are mostly the offspring of the imported pigs, according to the report.

In China’s breeding animals industry, pigs aren’t the only animal relying on imported pedigree. Milk cows and beef cattle are also reliant on imported breeding animals.

China’s seeds for a large range of crops and vegetables rely on imports as well.

The weekly Xinhua-operated magazine Liaowang reported on Sept. 21 last year that most of the corn seeds used in China are developed by American companies Pioneer and Monsanto. Pioneer is a subsidiary of American company Corteva Agriscience, which split from DowDuPont in 2019.

Potatoes are another example of a crop reliant on foreign stock.

Keshan county in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province is one of three potato capitals in China. Liaowang reported that half of the county’s potato farms plant Atlantic potatoes imported from the United States.

The other two potato capitals—Dingxi city northwestern China’s Gansu Province and Guyuan city in Ningxia region—also plant Atlantic potatoes as well as several local varieties.

Wheat is one of the main crops in China, which has about 4,500 years of history cultivating the grain.

“In recent years, Chinese wheat varieties haven’t meet the needs of cookies and bread businesses, which need high-gluten and low-gluten,” magazine Liaowang reported Lei Zhensheng, director of the Wheat Institute at Henan Provincial Agriculture Academy as saying. “We import wheat seeds [for these needs].”

China’s vegetable business, such as white radish, broccoli, pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, spinach are all supported by imported seeds.

“The price of the imported white radish seeds is over 20 times that of local ones. But the radish looks nicer, more juicy, with less roughages, and can be stored for a long time,” Liu Kuipeng, an official from Hunan Provincial Agricultural and Rural Affairs Bureau, told Liaowang. Liu said the majority of white radish seeds in China are imported from South Korea.

Xinhua reported on Feb. 23 that over 80 percent of broccoli seeds in China are imported from Japan because China didn’t have the stock technology.

The China National Seed Trade Association released its 2019 seeds trade annual report on Dec. 31 last year. According to the report, China imported $435 million worth of seeds in 2019, with $127 million being from the United States.

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