Dif­fer­ent kind of milk cri­sis: Not enough lo­cal feed for dairies

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By ZHONG NAN zhong­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s raw milk short­age in De­cem­ber has turned into a se­vere chal­lenge for the coun­try’s dairy farms this year, as most strug­gle to get for­age crops suf­fi­cient to boost pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­dus­try in­sid­ers said.

Gu Jicheng, vice-pres­i­dent of the Bei­jing-based Dairy As­so­ci­a­tion of China, said China’s poor for­age crop pro­duc­tion, along with ris­ing prices of im­ported al­falfa and corn silage, af­fected the na­tion’s raw milk out­put in 2013. Most Chi­nese dairy farms lack ac­cess to qual­ity feed for their cows, he added.

Com­pared with dairy cows in Is­rael, which can pro­duce up to 11 met­ric tons of milk on av­er­age per year, Chi­nese cows yield be­tween 6 and 7 tons per year. The world’s big­gest agri­cul­tural prod­uct con­sumer so far has only 200,000 hectares of farm­land for grow­ing corn silage.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, the coun­try en­coun­tered a no­table drop in raw milk pro­duc­tion last year, with out­put to­tal­ing 35.31 mil­lion tons in 2013, a 5.7 per­cent de­crease from the pre­vi­ous year. That move led to a price rise in dairy prod­ucts and bat­tles among ma­jor firms for the sup­ply of raw milk in the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Ma­jor Chi­nese com­pa­nies such as Bright Dairy and Food Co, China Meng­niu Dairy Co and Yili In­dus­trial Group Co re­cently raised their prices be­tween 5 and 10 per­cent af­ter Bei­jing dairy pro­ducer Sanyuan Group an­nounced it was hik­ing a num­ber of its dairy prod­ucts by 8 per­cent two months ago.

Fear­ing they will be driven from the mar­ket, dairy en­ter­prises of var­i­ous sizes have scram­bled to se­cure sup­plies from farms through­out China, es­pe­cially in the ma­jor milk-pro­duc­ing re­gions of He­bei, Hei­longjiang and Liaon­ing prov­inces, and the In­ner Mon­go­lia and Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gions.

Al­though most Chi­nese cows are Hol­steins, a breed that orig­i­nated in Europe and is known as the high­est-pro­duc­ing dairy an­i­mal to­day, their pro­duc­tiv­ity can­not com­pete with cows in Europe or the United States.

“Many Chi­nese dairy farm own­ers are still adapt­ing the way they feed pigs to run their busi­ness and only use hay to feed them,” Gu said. “Be­cause the price for qual­ity corn silage and al­falfa, mainly from abroad is higher than do­mes­tic made for­age feed, farm own­ers have dif­fi­culty in buy­ing them.”

Corn silage specif­i­cally for feed­ing cows is grown in spring and sum­mer and then stored for a month for a fer­men­ta­tion process. It is eas­ily di­gested by cows and sup­plies valu­able nu­tri­ents for cows’ over­all health.

Al­falfa mixed with grass hay can re­sult in a bet­ter bal­ance of for­age for feed­ing cows.

But while US al­falfa hay was sold in China at $340 per ton last month, a sim­i­lar Chi­nese crop with rel­a­tively lower qual­ity was priced at $230 per ton, said the China Na­tional Grain and Oils In­for­ma­tion Center.

Song Liang, a dairy in­dus­try an­a­lyst at the dis­tri­bu­tion pro­duc­tiv­ity pro­mo­tion center of China Com­merce, a Bei­jing-based busi­ness think tank, said that be­cause most farm­land in China is used for grow­ing grains and veg­eta­bles for hu­man con­sump­tion, the cul­ti­va­tion of for­age crops is far be­hind that of de­vel­oped coun­tries and re­lies heav­ily on im­ported al­falfa to sup­ply do­mes­tic dairy farms.

“China needs 200 mil­lion met­ric tons of for­age crops to meet the de­mand of its dairy sec­tor each year and must fur­ther in­crease im­ports of al­falfa and corn silage to pre­vent an ag­gra­vated short­fall this year,” he said.

The coun­try im­ported 678,300 tons of al­falfa from global mar­kets such as Canada and the US be­tween Jan­uary and Novem­ber 2013, a surge of 66 per­cent over the same pe­riod a year ear­lier.

To meet the na­tion’s diver­si­fied de­mand for dairy prod­ucts such as yo­gurt, cream and milk, the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture is­sued new poli­cies to sup­port for­age crop projects by of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance. He­bei also plans to de­velop 16,600 hectares of al­falfa farm­land and 26,000 hectares of corn silage plant­ing land be­fore 2017 to lessen the pres­sure on dairy farm own­ers.

DONG NAIDE / FOR CHINA DAILY

A dairy cow farm in Zoup­ing, Shan­dong prov­ince. China’s raw milk out­put was 35.31 mil­lion met­ric tons in 2013.

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