Canada could become a player in China’s forage market

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Canadian forage exporters are optimistic they can help feed China’s rapidly expanding livestock industry.

Marc Lavoie, a Peace River hay exporter and dairy farmer, says China’s need for more livestock feed is growing, but so are its cities. Forage-producing areas are being forced to relocate.

China also has water quality issues, which limit forage production.

“A lot of the water they have they can’t use on forages,” said Lavoie, who recently visited the country as part of a Canadian Forage and Grassland Association delegation investigating the market potential. “It’s too contaminated.”

The delegation met with representatives from the Chinese Department of Agriculture and the Chinese equivalent of CFIA to talk about protocols for exporting timothy hay to China.

“There is a protocol for exporting alfalfa that we can use to ship and there is a Canadian company that has recently shipped product to China,” said Lavoie. However, tests for exporting alfalfa into China are tedious and require a lot more work for farmers and exporters.

In 2011, China imported 270,000 tonnes of forage.

China’s large population has rising incomes, which means consumers are spending more on meat and dairy products, products that require forages. There are also seven million horses in China and 300 equine centres.

Most of these are workhorses, not high-end horses. Horse racing has been banned, which means less demand for high-end hay for horse feed. The quality of hay being fed to horses in the equestrian centres is fairly low, but is sold for an expensive price, Lavoie said. Low-quality corn stover silage is also being used as a feed for horses.

Forage is expensive in China due to the cost of transporting forages around the large country, said Lavoie. “The cities are expanding rapidly and forages have to come from a long distance,” he said. The Chinese are currently looking for low-priced, good-quality product.

The Canadians also visited dairies in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. China has 12.6 million dairy cows, about eight million of which are lactating, producing about 35.6 metric tonnes of milk a year. “They plan on doubling that by 2015,” said Lavoie. “It’s not an if, it’s a how, and it’s up to us whether we want to become part of this or not,” he said. “There are a lot of other markets, so we just have to make sure we’re there and participating.”

China is the largest producer of milk in the world, even though the average dairy farmer has only five to 10 cows. If it plans to increase milk output, they’ll also have to increase forage imports. “Most of the farms are still small, have very little knowledge and they feed the cows whatever they can find,” Lavoie said. “The government wants to increase milk production so they’re talking about bringing in expertise in dairy management, feed management and feed production to increase milk production,” he said.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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