Usually, rice is the crop most associated with China. What some people may not know is that corn is an equally important crop produced in the country – or perhaps even more important than rice. The high profits that corn production brings give Chinese farmers the incentive to want to produce more of it. In 2015, corn even surpassed rice to become the most largely produced crop in China.
Initially when corn was first introduced in China is was largely a part of their cuisine. Today, however, the majority of the Chinese people consider it peasant food. You may find corn included in western-influenced Chinese cuisine like cream corn chowder, or fried rice dishes, or maybe in moo-Shu fillings. Authentic Chinese cuisines, however, it’s rare to recipes that use corn as the main or base ingredient, whether whole or ground into flour.
Today 60% of the corn in China is mainly used as livestock feed. That is livestock like pigs and chickens. The other 30% percent is normally taken through industrial processing to make sweeteners, starch, alcohol, and ethyl among other industrial products. A very small percentage of about 10% is consumed as food, like in KFC where they serve corn on a cob in China.
In this post, we attempt to further understand the importance and use of corn in China. We will look at when corn was introduced into China, where it is grown, and how it’s priced.
Corn In China History
The cereal, corn, is said to have first been domesticated about 100 centuries ago by the indigenous people of Southern Mexico, before the pre-Columbian era. Over time it is said to have grown to become a staple crop in most countries all over the world seeing as it is a high-yield crop. America was especially known for producing it.
It is not clear when corn was introduced in China, or who introduced it to the country. Some say it was brought into the country by a Portuguese trader. Others say that it came to China through India, while others say it was introduced by Western traders who offered it to the royal family as a tribute. Some also say that corn was initially introduced to China during the Ming dynasty, where it was first called imperial grain. It was considered a true delicacy and rarely grown initially. But by the 18th century, corn had become widely popular in China.
Today, China is among the leading producers and consumers of corn in the world alongside countries like Brazil. They make up about 19% of the market. While another corn was initially majorly used for human consumption, today it’s mostly processed in industries and used as livestock feeders especially for pigs who are fed on a corn diet.
Where Is Corn Grown in China?
Currently, China is among the largest producers of maize in the world. The output is almost 220 million tons in a year, which is said to have increased over 12 times over the past decades. Although about ¾ of the yield is used as animal feed, it is currently ranked amongst the top three cereal crops in the country, along with rice and wheat.
Most of the maize grown in the country is cuts across the northeast to the southwest of the country, forming what is famously known as China Corn Belt. The belt is a slope of three long narrow regions made up of 11 provinces. The regions are differentiated by different agronomical and natural conditions related to corn production. The first region is the Northeastern region which grows a type of corn known as the spring corn. It is the upper part of the belt and includes the following provinces, inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning. The second region is the Huang River (also known as Huai river or Hai River), which forms the central part of the belt and grows the summer corn. The provinces included are Shandong, Hebei, Shanxi, and Henan. The last region and lowest part of the belt is the mountainous area of the southwest. The three provinces included in this region are Shaanxi, Yunnan, and Sichuan.
Maize diseases in China vary based on the different regions mentioned in terms of the planting pattern and season. The most predominant pests are the Asian maize borers especially. This is what led to the introduction of Hybrid maize which contributed to 40% of the increase in grain yield. China has gradually implemented biotechnology into corn production programs in an attempt to increase yield and meet the future demand of the market.
What Is the Price of Corn in China?
As we mentioned earlier, corn over the years proved to be a highly profitable crop that motivated farmers to increase the acreage for its production. By 2012, the annual growth rate of corn prices 9.6%, which raised its price to the level of wheat. By 2020, the export value of corn was $807.87 thousand and the import value was $2,49 billion.
The main reason for the increase in value and pricing of corn in China is due to the increase in production and consumption of Pork in the country. Since the pigs are fed corn as their main diet it would make sense that the demand would increase. However, there is a spatial mismatch in the demand and supply of corn in China.
Whereas corn is mainly grown in the Northeastern areas pork production is mainly in the southern and central areas of China. The cost of transporting the corn from the point of production to the point of consumption is more costly than importing the corn from other countries like the US. This is due to the corn support policy that led to the increase in imported corn consumption and a decrease in domestic corn consumption. This policy involved corn stockpiling in 2007 where the government would take corn from the farmers at minimum support prices which were still significantly higher than the market price. This increased domestic corn’s price to more than the US corn’s price.
Although the corn produced in China is mainly for animal feed, there are still some areas in China that enjoy it as food. In some parts like in Northern China, you can find cornbread like Wotou, a type of steamed cornbread made from cornmeal. Regardless of whether it’s for human consumption or animal feed, corn production has proven to be profitable for China. It’s, therefore, no wonder it is among the three leading grains in the country.