Trip to China

I have always wanted to go to China to see for myself what is happening in their dairy industry. So, after nine months of planning and the aid of Farm Tours Ltd, who did a brilliant job of sorting out hotels, guides, transport etc. myself and 7 other farmers went to China for 10 days.

We flew into Beijing and after a bit of sightseeing at the Great Wall and Forbidden City we headed off to see some farms both around Beijing and up North in Inner Mongolia. China is a very controlled society, so we only went to farms that the government thought appropriate, but we still got a good flavour of their situation. Everyone we met were very friendly and pleased to think that we were taking an interest in their farming.

The capital investment in dairy was vast, as in most things over there. We saw lots of rotary parlours, sheds that were over 500m long, a silage pit that covered 15 acres, but not a lot of cows. The farmers that we met told us what they were going to produce but not what they were producing now. They were looking to source cows from Australia/New Zealand and all the cows we saw were Holstein type.

Their production systems were based on high-input, housed cows which were all milked 3 times a day. Yields varied from 25 litres to 38 litres per day. Most of the farmers we met were desperate for knowledge and (apart from a unit that was being run by a group of Americans), cow management could be a problem. However, all the stock we saw looked very well and healthy.

Forage could be a problem. They are still under a feudal system, everyone has an acre, and with most young people heading to the city, the areas that we saw (although China is a very big place) might struggle to feed the cows that could fill the vast infrastructure that they have created. The cows we saw were fed on maize silage, straights/compounds, and dried alfalfa imported from the US.

We also visited two milk factories. Both were capable of doing 2 million litres a day but if they were doing 15% of that they were lucky. The Chinese dairy industry has a massive problem in that Chinese people will not use Chinese dairy products. They think they are dirty and unsafe. Both milk factories had exhibition farms for the general public to see how milk was produced. One farm even had an 80 point rotary and a pair of 46 point rapid exits, a million pounds worth of parlours within 25 metres of each other just to show people the difference! Their information centres at the milk factories were huge, spotless and well organised focusing on how clean, healthy and safe their products were.

Up to 70 % of Chinese people are Lactose intolerant, which is an issue.

One of the milk companies was involved with Arla, who owned 6% of it (the government owned most of the rest). Arla were looking to open up the market and the Chinese were looking to use the Arla brand to get credibility.

Because of this lack of internal demand, if there is over supply, home produced milk is worthless, indeed we saw one farm with 3500 cows, that last summer was dumping 60,000 litres a day! Being paid very little for your milk is one problem, nobody wanting it at all is another ball game.

In short, within the areas we visited, the Chinese have invested a vast amount in the infrastructure to produce milk but at this present time haven’t got the cows, forage or knowledge to maximise it. In the short term, with their lack of internal demand, it is questionable if they ever will.  But, the potential is there and if they get their act together could produce a vast amount of milk but I feel it is a big if.

Mark Causey
Dairy Feed Specialist
T 07968 168449