From Ft. Wayne to Yangling

Indiana farmers get eye-opening glimpse of Chinese agriculture.

When Ft. Wayne, Ind. farmers Don and Joe Wyss returned from a week-long stay in China last fall, they couldn't help but feel optimistic about future grain exporting opportunities to the Far East.

"Their diets and incomes have improved and they're going to see continued livestock expansion," says Don. "That's going to take more corn and feedstocks and soybean meal to feed those herds. Add in they're losing ag ground to industrialization and a lack of clean water, and I don't think there's any way they will be able to grow enough corn for their own needs."

Joe (left) and Don Wyss visited China last fall along with parents and farm partners Andy and Pat Wyss.

As a result of their friendship with visiting Purdue Professor Penghui Dou, last November Don and Joe, along with parents and farm partners Andy and Pat Wyss, were able to get a first hand look at Chinese agriculture when they were invited to speak at the 14th Annual China Yangling Agricultural Hi-Tech Fair (CAF), one of the most famous fairs in China.

The Indiana farmers were an instant hit with the locals. "We had translators with us all the time, and after our presentation the farmers came up and asked us to visit their farms and help them," recalls Don. "One wanted us to help formulate a plan to improve production."

It became clear to the Wyss family that Chinese agriculture has some significant barriers to efficiencies. For one, economies of scale hold back production. Typical farms there are a third to two-thirds of an acre, although some farms in the northwest are larger.

"Here in the U.S. we have the benefits of herbicide, fertilizer and GM seed that allows us to produce more with less," says Joe. "It's clear they don't have that level of production. There might be some parts of the country that are experimenting with the types of crops we grow, but the synthetic fertilizers we use are not as readily available there."

Even so, China is now importing much more fertilizer along with other commodities such as oil and steel. Don says China wants to remain self-sustaining on its food supply, but that may prove difficult, despite increased levels of fertilizer and more aggressive use of GM seed.

The Wyss family visited officials at the Hopefull Grain and Oil Group in Beijing.

"They have their work cut out for them," he says. "As fast as their economy is growing, at 9  to 10 percent each year, there's a lot of people making more money and improving diets, eating better foods. They have to make continued dramatic steps in the right direction to maintain food production or they are going to face importing more bulk commodities like corn."

So far China has not imported much, if any, corn, Don continues. "But from what we've seen on a personal standpoint, I could make a pretty good argument that we're going to see that China will actually have to start importing corn," he adds.

'Lower lifestyle'

A lack of mechanization and modernization has caused many Chinese farmers to move to the city in search of better incomes. "There's a desire for many people on the farm to find a way out," says Joe. "In a lot of ways, the farming lifestyle is seen as a lower lifestyle. Some people we met were shocked that we had college degrees but were still interested in staying on the farm."

China is reforming land policies. In the long term that would improve efficiencies by creating larger tracts. That change will bring improvements in fertilizer and machinery, allowing Chinese farmers to become more efficient.

"They're definitely open to change and improving their situation," concludes Don. "They have a passion for farming, but resources are an issue. They're not going to be able to make big enough strides to prevent becoming an importer of corn."

For more on the Wyss visit to China, go to

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