Nebraska Corn Board exec reflects on China trip

China is harvesting a record-large corn crop this year.  But participants in a recent U.S. Grains Council mission to that country say China will still need to import corn to meet its growing demand for protein. 

The council pegs China’s corn crop at six-point-six billion bushels, up nearly six percent from last year.  Tour participant Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, says the crop he witnessed in China was far more impressive than he expected to see.

“Their average yield is projected to be around 85 bushels to the acre,” Hutchens says, “and while that may not sound great to U.S. corn farmers, as far as being very competitive, when you look at the fact that they’re not using the same kind of biotechnology that we have—they’re not using a lot of the crop practices that we use—it overall looks like a pretty good crop.” 

But while the Chinese are making progress on their corn yields, Hutchens says 80 percent of their crop is still harvested by hand and transported via small carts and wagons.   

Despite the record crop, the Grains Council estimates that China will import between five million and ten million metric tons of corn—equaling about 200 to 400 million bushels—by the end of 2012.  Hutchens says it’s hard to say how much of that will come from the U.S. 

“There’s probably going to be an opportunity for—whether it’s going to be Brazil, Argentina or other countries, and/or the U.S.—to export some corn,” he says. “I anticipate China’s going to be importing corn—where it comes from, you never know—but I think there’s going to be an opportunity for some U.S. corn exports to China.” 

China’s rapid economic growth has produced the world’s fastest growing middle class, and demand for meat and dairy products is soaring.  Hutchens says there’s no doubt that, over time, China’s need for corn will grow. 

“(We saw) more skyscrapers going up and it’s the number one market for Lamborghinis.  There’s some obvious wealth occurring in China—and that should translate into better diets and increased demand for protein,” says Hutchens.

AUDIO: Don Hutchens (9:58 MP3)