China’s corn imports may hit a record high

China’s demand for imported corn is likely to continue to rise along with a rebound in hog production, even as domestic farmers are planting more corn spurred by surging corn prices, industry analysts said on Tuesday.

China’s corn imports could reach a record high of more than 30 million tons this year, with the US expected to be the largest supplier, according to the analysts.

A rural cooperative farm in Kedong County, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday that it expanded the planting area of corn this year, mainly due to high prices.

In 2020, corn price went from 1,900 yuan ($295.8) per ton in January to 2,600 yuan per ton at the end of the year, an increase of about 36.8 percent.

China’s corn planting area will reach about 640 million mu (42.7 million hectares) in 2021, up 3.4 percent from 2020. Total corn output is expected to reach 272 million tons, up 4.3 percent, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the National Bureau of Statistics.

“The profit was about 600 yuan per mu last year. But our arable land is limited, so the increase in corn planting is not much,” said the cooperative farm, which has been growing corn for more than 20 years.

Analysts said that corn imports will probably reach a new high this year, despite the increase in domestic output, due to rising demand for corn – the main feed for hogs.

China imported a record 11.3 million tons of corn last year. In the first quarter of 2021, China imported 6.73 million tons of corn, an increase of 437.8 percent year-on-year and less than 500,000 tons short of the annual quota of 7.2 million tons, according to statistics from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) released in April.

“This year will see an extension of last year’s import momentum, which is likely to break through 30 million tons,” Lu Yuping, general manager of start-up Longping Biotechnology (Hainan) Co, told the Global Times.

Lu said that the robust demand for soybeans and corn – two important sources of feed for hogs – has become prominent over the past year with a hog breeding rebound after the African swine fever outbreak.

Another agricultural analyst surnamed Xu at TF Futures Research Institute told the Global Times on Tuesday that corn imports may reach as much as 40 million tons.

“The price of imported corn, even including transportation costs, is much lower than that of domestic corn. Downstream corn processing and feed enterprises will still choose imported corn,” Wang Gangyi, a professor at Northeast Agricultural University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The US Department of Agriculture said that corn prices in China were nearly double those of US corn at the end of January.

Analysts said that the US will likely be China’s largest source of imported corn this year. Also under the phase one trade agreement between China and the US, China has pledged to increase purchase of US agricultural products.

According to data from the GAC, China imported 3.48 million tons of corn from the US in the first quarter, accounting for 51.7 percent of China’s total imports, followed by the Ukraine with 3.19 million tons.

As of May 6, China has imported a record 11.74 million tons of corn from the US, according to the USDA.

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