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Just How Big is China?

February 5, 2009
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor

Linda Smith, Top Producer Executive Editor
Consider the following statistics provided by Scott Rozelle, Stanford University's ag economist, who has been living in China:


  •  It took the U.S. economy from 1870 to 1970 to grow 10 times. It took China from 1978 to 2004.
  • 300 million people in China have urbanized. If 60% leave the farm, that still leaves 200 million on farms. The typical rural person eats 250 kg/day of grain—equal to two loaves of bread. Urbanites eat equal to only one loaf. A rural person eats meat twice a year; urbanites eat a lot of meat and fruit.
  • Every year, China adds the equivalent of another California in volume of vegetable production.
  •  As incomes rise, milk is the big winner, then meats. Multiply 1.3 billion people by 50% more. In the next 10 years, doubling what has already doubled, the incremental growth is more than the U.S. produces. (In 2008, China became the world's biggest pork importer. Expect new records ahead.)
  • As meat production rises, where will feed come from? As a market for U.S. corn, China could equal that of U.S. ethanol plants.
  • China is now in the "retail olympics,” Rozelle says. "In 1990 a supermarket opened in Peking. It went broke. Today, supermarkets account for 40% of food spending.”
  •  Import protection has fallen from almost 100% to 5%; the U.S. has more protection than China. Trade has doubled. In 1995 China was food self-sufficient. Now it imports more than half its consumption. – Linda H. Smith
For More Information

You can e-mail Linda Smith at lsmith@farmjournal.com.

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