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Improving animal feed formulations to reduce dependence on imports
China Daily
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Improving animal feed formulations to reduce dependence on imports

Authorities are working to revamp animal feed formulas with an aim to curb the use of soybean meal, a byproduct of soybean oil extraction.

The move is part of a broader effort by China to wean itself off imported soybeans.

The nation's soybean imports jumped 11.4 percent last year to almost 100 million metric tons despite recent efforts to expand domestic production, Chen Bangxun, who oversees agricultural planning at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said on Tuesday.

He told a news conference in Beijing that vast amounts of the protein-rich substances are being used to make animal feed. The practice has driven up demand for imported soybeans.

"It is scientifically and practically plausible to reduce soybean-meal consumption by resorting to substitutes," Chen said.

He added that research has shown the current level of protein in the country's animal feed is more than sufficient.

Chen said the ministry last year initiated a three-year campaign to bolster the efficient use of soybean meal in the animal feed sector.

Last year, soybean meal contributed to less than 13 percent of all raw materials, down 1.5 percentage points from 2022.

"The drop translates into 9 million tons of soybeans," he said.

Chen noted that the formula's change won't affect nutrition, given that synthetic amino acids-the major nutrients that soybean meal provides-and more efficient processing techniques would be used to ensure protein levels.

According to the General Administration of Customs, soybeans accounted for more than 60 percent of grain imports last year.

China has long relied on imported soybeans in order to make room for more growing areas for wheat and rice and to ensure the absolute security of staple food provisions.

More recently, central authorities have worked to bolster domestic soybean supply to shield the country-the world's largest food importer by food trade volume-from external factors ranging from trade protectionism and logistics woes caused by regional conflicts.

Deng Xiaogang, a vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, said at the news conference that China made notable progress in expanding the amount of arable land used to grow soybean and other oil crops such as rapeseed last year.

He noted that the planting areas for soybeans reached 10.4 million hectares last year, with a record yield of 208,400 tons.

"The total planting area of oil crops has crossed the threshold of 13.3 million hectares," Deng said.

The added planting areas were largely a result of efforts by authorities to encourage farmers to intercrop or rotate soybeans with corn to increase the supply, and the adoption of higher-yield varieties.

As part of the push to increase domestic soybean production, China greenlighted homegrown genetically modified soybean and corn varieties for commercial production on the mainland last year after a three-year trial.

"Based on the trial data, GMO(genetically modified organism) varieties have outperformed conventional counterparts in terms of yield and cost," said Pan Wenbo, director of the ministry's crop management department.

Officials reassured the public that the country's food supply is sufficient, despite an 11.7 percent year-on-year increase in China's grain imports last year.

China's overall grain output stood at a historical high of 695 million tons in 2023.

The number has exceeded the 650-million-ton benchmark-set by the central government to ensure stable food supply-for the ninth consecutive year despite heavy rains, floods and droughts in multiple regions across the country.

Deng said China's food production has strong support from technologies and equipment.

Large swaths of grain fields have been upgraded into "high-quality" farmland that can withstand heavy rains and droughts and can be harvested by machinery. Breakthroughs have also been made in rolling out tractors and sowing machines that can be used on rugged terrain.

China DailyShen Yi

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