How has world agriculture changed over the last decade?
It is always interesting to develop our 10-year international forecast. The analysis tends to bring to light some of the changes taking place around the world and lays out at least some of the implications of these changes over the coming decade. It is also interesting to dig into the archives to see what the big issues were a decade ago and how the world has changed since then. This week we review some of the issues that were important when we produced the forecast in 2004.
In last week’s AgInsight we revisited the rising grain deficit in major importing countries and regions that was analyzed in the 2004 report. Using the same approach – we projected the deficits out through 2022 and found as always that the assumptions about China are critical to the future of world grain trade. But the finding is not new. In 2004 we wrote “If data from USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service is at all accurate, China’s future will be substantially different from the recent past. Beginning in 1999-00 China’s grain production has come nowhere close to meeting domestic demand. The data clearly indicates that China will need to be a major grain importer in the near future and with continued growth in demand could cause a huge change in world markets”. While my archives don’t allow me to go back to the mid-1990s those old enough to remember know that similar statements were being made even back then.
So, what have we learned over the last 20 years about China? The answer is that the results can turn out to be a lot different than the most recent data implies. China’s production capacity has surprised us all. Even a decade ago people in the U.S. and China were saying that China was losing good cropland to industrial development. Our forecast back then had China’s coarse grain area leveling off near the 2003 level. That did not happen and yields also increased significantly more than forecast. China’s wheat and rice area had been declining through the 1990s and into the early 2000s – but rice area increased and wheat area held basically steady during this most recent decade.
A decade ago we were worried about China’s dwindling water supplies. We wrote “Urbanization is taking water from agriculture for city use. Water pollution is a big problem for China reducing the amount of water suitable for irrigation. … it seems likely that the water problems will become more problematic in the years ahead and the amount of water available for agriculture may decline.” You can find almost exactly the same statements from people around the world earlier this year and in almost every previous year of the last decade. Concerns about water problems persist, but crop acreage and yields continue to increase at a strong pace.