Renewable Farming

Is China stocking up on corn, beans as a buffer against flood damage to China’s crops?

Nobody this side of the Pacific knows the answer to that question. But Chinese soybean importers booked 1.76 million metric tons of U.S. corn this week — the largest export sale of corn in 30 years. Commercial exporters also reported that China ordered 129,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans and 320,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat. This tops up record June imports of soybeans from Brazil.

July 24, 2020 — We see China’s aggressive stocking up on feedstuffs, including recent aggressive buys of soybeans from South America, as a security measure, not just compliance with the U.S./China trade deal. 

China’s floods — worst in a century despite construction of some 94,000 flood control dams since the 1950s — are having a growing-season impact on crops. China’s state-controlled media have insistently downplayed crop losses. American media published several reports on China’s floods this week; an excellent map of the region was posted July 24 in the Wall Street Journal at this link. (Subscription required) 

Update July 30: Today’s WSJ also describes China’s surging demand for corn, noting that domestic corn futures have risen to $8.37 per bushel on the Dalian Commodity Exchange. 

Update Aug. 3: The South China Post reports that public concern over the quality of China’s corn reserve stocks was stirred by social media videos of moldy corn from one reserve storehouse. This, coupled with high domestic prices for corn and questions about crop size following reports that about 43 million acres of cropland have been flooded, caused authorities to ban smartphone cameras in grain storage facilities.

Update Aug. 21: Floodwaters on the Yangtze River above the Three Gorges dam are peaking, with 75,000 cubic meters of water per second flowing into the reservoir impounded by the dam. The 483-meter spillway, located in the middle of the dam, has 23 bottom outlets. Today, 11 of them are opened, so there is plenty of discharge capacity. In addition to the bottom outlets, it has 22 surface sluice gates. Maximum discharge capacity of the dam is 116,000 cubic meters per second, the biggest in the world.

This report aims to give you a few extra sources of credible information on China’s 2020 crop prospects in the face of severe flooding there. Background: China’s 70-year program to build dams to recover flood plains for farming, provide irrigation water, and power hydroelectric turbines now faces a severe strain from torrential flooding. China’s strategy to overpower nature could fail as dams burst and levees are blown, flooding more crops than China wants to acknowledge. 

As examples here are five links to web-based news outlets which “broadcast” on streaming channels, mainly YouTube. They’re small-scale independent news ventures which dig out facts that our mainstream TV channels overlook or downplay.  The video programs linked below focus on threats to the food-producing capacity of China’s central farming regions under current 100-year flooding. 

One of the first links features a Chinese analyst who explains the background controversy underlying the huge Three Gorges Dam. He raises the question of whether the massive concrete structure is flexible enough to handle long-term underlying rock deformations from water pressure far above flood level. Or, the soft bedrock may shift with earthquakes, such as the seven quakes which rocked China recently. Here’s the link to the 15-minute analysis, produced by the Epoch Times

The essence of the Chinese speaker’s report: The communist viewpoint for decades has been that communists can overwhelm nature rather than learning to coexist with it. This season is testing that theory.

Next, here are links leading you to micro-news channels which are examples of the little streaming news tributaries you may never have seen.

1. The WION news service channel on YouTube has 1.5 million subscribers. That’s in the same league as some of the weaker U.S. cable news networks. Instead of covering massive stories with 15-second video bites, WION builds more comprehensive reports such as this 11-minute feature, China’s dams: A ticking time bomb?

2. Adapt 2030, a recent YouTube news channel, has accumulated 110,000 subscribers. Like a cable TV service, its news reports are interlaced with brief ads. A report published July 22 runs 17 minutes, is Largest floods in Chinese history wiped out the country’s food and grain supplyThat may be a tad overstated. Slide the video timeline to 9:40 minutes and see how the central plains of a major grain area are completely flooded. 

3. China Observer — Vision Times has only 20,700 subscribers, but the service generates detailed news reports like the one at this link. The commentary offers further descriptions of flooding on China’s central rivers and impacts on China’s farmland. The reporter notes that historically, China has always sacrificed low-lying farmland by blasting levees to reduce flooding in major cities.

4. REP GlobalA 4-minute segment released July 24 picks up and comments on a simulated bursting of the Three Gorges Dam, which was originated by Caijing Lengyan, a widely watched Chinese financial news site, and later picked up by Taiwan News in Taipei. This video is hypothetical, but the professionally-created simulation of downstream flooding quickly went viral in mainland China. The point: Social media enables the smallest point of news origin, even a single body cam image, to become a multinational shock. Even the most totalitarian regime can’t fully manage thousands of such independent sources.

China’s farm and pastureland represents 10% of the world’s arable land, while China is home to more than 20% of the world’s population. Of 1.4 million square kilometers of arable land, only about 1.2% permanently supports major food crops, the rest is grazing land. Only 525,800 square kilometers are irrigated, which is a major reason why China has focused on dam building for seven decades.

Tonight, Breitbart reports that many Chinese citizens are questioning whether their government is giving them the full facts about the extent of flooding, the threat to their 2020 crop production, and even the safety of the massive Three Gorges Dam.

Update July 27: This link takes you to a list of Epoch Times reports on China flooding. The lead item points out that the third flood crest on the upper Yangtze River will arrive in the Three Gorges lake starting today. Other items reveal that Chinese rural residents are increasingly frustrated that their land and homes are being deliberately flooded to prevent flood crests from submerging downstream urban centers.

Update August 22: A major Chinese business newspaper and website, Caixin Global, notes China’s doubling of wheat imports along with other grains. For the first time, a leading Chinese news outlet is acknowledging flood damage of this season’s crops as a factor driving food import demand. 

If you want to keep an eye on the Three Gorges Dam, here’s a link to a live streaming video which runs 24/7. (Daytime in the USA means it’s night in China. Also, you may see rain in front of the camera.) The camera shows the central part of the dam, where all floodgates were open as of July 25. Note the chat comments alongside the streaming video; you can add a comment to the chat series if you’d like to. Occasionally, someone takes this video offline — perhaps because of the comments — but we can usually find another site that’s carrying it.