.. XIAOWUSILI, China — For all its economic might, China hasn’t been able to solve a crucial problem.
Soybeans. It just can’t grow enough of them.
That could blunt the impact of one of the biggest weapons the country wields in a trade fight with the United States.
.. Last year, soy growers in the United States sold nearly one-third of their harvest to China. In dollar terms, only airplanes are a more significant American export to China
.. Over all, she is not producing much more today than she was a decade ago. Her fields are small and not irrigated. The new, supposedly higher-yielding seeds promoted by the government are not much better than the older varieties, she says.
.. Farm goods could be a big weakness for China should the trade conflict with the United States turn into an all-out brawl.
.. China’s increasingly wealthy people want more and better food on their plates. But the country’s farms are generally too small and underdeveloped to keep up.
..Nearly 90 percent of the soybeans China consumed last year came from overseas — more than 100 million tons in total. (Mexico, the world’s No. 2 importer, bought just five million tons.)
.. To increase the availability of other types of animal feed, China’s customs authority removed inspection requirements on a variety of agricultural byproducts, including peanut meal, cottonseed meal and rapeseed meal
.. the provincial government offered generous subsidies to farmers both for growing soybeans and for switching their fields to soy from corn.
.. his farm cooperative requires that members rotate their crops to keep the soil healthy.
.. China would need to dedicate a huge fraction of the entire nation’s farmland — between a quarter and a third, by various estimates — to soy if it wanted to be self-sufficient... Many people from Heilongjiang are already growing soybeans across the Amur River in the Russian Far East, where land is cheap and plentiful.
.. farmers in Heilongjiang acknowledge they are a long way from being as productive as farmers in the United States, where agriculture is more mechanized and genetic modification is embraced.
.. Modern farming is expensive, however. And in Mr. Hou’s case, it involves a secret weapon: American technology.
.. a yard full of bright-green John Deere farm machines, which Mr. Hou buys with the help of government subsidies. Chinese machinery is cheaper but more prone to breakdowns, he says.
Even some of the fertilizer Mr. Hou uses comes from the United States.
.. “We rely first on the heavens,” the saying went. “We rely second on American diammonium phosphate.”