| Posted June 2, 2005: One
of the things we say over and over in this column is “food is
different.” Those words came to mind as we read a story in the
May 11, 2005 issue of China Daily about the development of a “super
The story was about a Chinese agronomist, Liu Binghua,
who has developed a variety of wheat that should earn the designation
“super wheat” when harvest is completed in June.
The article notes that, if successful, the research led by Liu
could bring about a doubling of China’s average wheat yield.
In 2004, the average wheat yield in China was 62.17 bushels per
acre, well above the US average of 43.14. In test plots last year,
the highest wheat yield was 159 bushel per acre, a yield that Kansas
and North Dakota wheat farmers can only dream of.
In addition to yield, Chinese researchers are working on adapting
this high yielding wheat variety to the varied weather and soil
conditions in China, including the high-altitude area of the Tibet
Autonomous Region. Breeding in drought tolerance is also a breeding
While the agronomic advances are interesting, what caught our eye
was the context into which the China Daily journalist placed the
story. The focus of the story was not that Chinese agronomists are
conducting world-class, cutting-edge research on wheat production.
Rather, the focus of the story was made clear by the China Daily
headline: “Wheat harvest to enhance food security.”
The article indicates that China Agricultural University projects
that the population of China in 2030 will be 1.6 billion, up from
today’s 1.3 billion. The projected demand for grain to feed
the increased population is between 9.5 billion bushels (60 lb.
bu. equivalent) and 10.7 billion bushel equivalent. Currently China’s
grain production stands at 6.7 billion bushel equivalent.
The article makes it clear that the preferred way of reaching that
goal is to increase Chinese domestic production: “As the nation
grows increasingly alarmed by the international catchwords ‘food
security,’ it has never ceased its efforts in grinding out
super-yield crops to feed its growing population.”
In 1963, when Liu was in senior middle school, his experience of
hunger set him on the path that he has followed throughout his life.
“‘Unconsciously, I have been on a mission to find solutions
to yield more crops for the nation ever since,’ said Liu,
adding that starvation happened even in Henan, a staple province
for China’s wheat planting.”
The average wheat yield in China in 1963 was 11.55 bu./ac. compared
to 25.18 in the US during that same year. In the intervening years,
US wheat yields have increased by 72% while Chinese yields have
increased by 438%, a testimony to the importance China places on
increasing its ability to feed its population. As the article says:
“China feeds 22% of the world’s population on only 7%
of the world’s arable land. That means grain security must
be placed at the top of the government’s agenda.”
Many countries view food security in the same way that we view
military security in the US. Food is different. If the US, which
has never experienced a major famine, seeks to maintain its domestic
base of food production so it does not become dependent on imports,
how much more might that be true for a country like China, which
has experienced famine within the lifetime of many of its residents?
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural
Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is
the Director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC).
(865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance
of Harwood D. Schaffer, Research Associate with APAC.