Charting China's 2022 development blueprint for rural and agricultural sectors, the annual central rural work conference has once again underscored the urgent need to stabilize grain acreage and expand production of soybeans and other oil crops to ensure sufficient supplies.
The conference, held at the end of last year, set the grain output target for this year at above 650 million metric tons.
Tang Renjian, minister of agriculture and rural affairs, said China should vigorously develop oil crops, cultivate high-quality varieties and promote companion planting of corn and soybeans in order to expand acreage and increase output.
Expanding production of soybeans and other oil crops will be a major task that must be accomplished next year, Tang said at a conference late last month, which brought together officials from agricultural and rural affairs authorities nationwide.
The country will work to expand planting areas for soybeans in Northeast China and gradually promote companion planting of both soybeans and corn, he said. The production of oilseeds such as rapeseed and peanuts should also be promoted, Tang added.
China saw its 18th consecutive bumper harvest year in 2021, with grains hitting a record high of 683 million metric tons, up 2 percent year-on-year. The nation's grain output has exceeded 650 million tons for seven consecutive years, said the National Bureau of Statistics, which ensures the nation's food security.
Yang Wenyu, a soybean expert at Sichuan Agricultural University, said though China has ensured national food security, there is still a gap between supply and demand for soybeans and corn.
"The supply and demand of rice and wheat in China is balanced and steady, while the biggest gap－about 130 million tons－remains in soybeans and corn," Yang said, adding that addressing the gap is key to ensuring food security.
Last year, China produced 19.6 million tons of soybeans while importing 100.3 million tons of the commodity, said the General Administration of Customs.
More than 80 percent of domestic soybean consumption relies on imports.
"With limited arable land, corn and soybeans are competing for planting area, so increasing yields of both crops is important," Yang said.
This year, China's corn output increased 11.9 million metric tons, up 4.6 percent year-on-year, while soybean output fell 16.4 percent, the bureau said.
Farmers have preferred to plant corn as soybean yields are lower and the latter benefits less from government subsidies.
"The companion planting of corn and soybeans will ensure the steady output of corn while increasing soybean yields," Yang said, adding that currently such planting techniques may be the only effective way to fill the gap.
The demonstration bases in Sichuan province and Southwest China have shown positive results using such a strategy, and the mechanization of planting and harvesting have further contributed to the country's total grain output.
The method should be further promoted to solve the problem as many still think it doesn't work well with agricultural mechanization and refuse to apply it, Yang said.
"Farmers don't realize that agricultural machinery can operate between rows and worry about the risk of production loss," he said.
Yang added that China should also enhance scientific research and allocate subsidies for the use of effective machinery and the breeding of high-quality soybean varieties.
In addition, vegetable production and supply has generally been stable in recent years, but it still faces large price fluctuations in some areas.
The annual central rural work conference emphasized that the supply of vegetables, pork, poultry, livestock and aquatic products should be stabilized.
Tang said the country will strengthen logistics facilities for long-distance domestic transport of vegetables.
Efforts will be made to ensure emergency production and supply, and stabilize the production of live pigs and other livestock, as well as poultry, eggs, milk and aquatic products, he added.