US 'historic' sorghum shipment arrives in China

Updated: 2013-10-22 05:18

By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York (China Daily)

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A new era in US-China agricultural relations has begun with the first bulk shipment of US sorghum to China, the chairman of the United States Grains Council said.

With prosperity driving Chinese to consume more protein, boosting demand for animal feed, "the United States is in a unique position, both in its capacity to produce and its variety of products, to respond and meet China's feed grain needs," Julius Schaaf said in a release.

More than 60,000 metric tons of US sorghum designated for animal feed was unloaded last week at Port of Guangzhou, a leading port in South China. The shipment comes as China's large private feed mills increasingly buy sorghum from the US after using up their import allocations for corn, the preferred animal-feed grain.

The mills have reached their import limit of 2.88 million tons of corn this year and are not expected to provide more corn until the end of the year when the government issues quotas for 2014.

Importing US-grown sorghum is an appealing alternative because domestic corn production is significantly more expensive.

The grains council said its sources indicate China could purchase a significant share of the 2013 US crop. "Traders estimate that the 2013-14 crop year should register sales of 1.6 million tons (63 million bushels) or more," global trade manager Alvaro Cordero said in the release.

"It's good for China to have a bit of a diversified supply of grains to meet their needs for feed ingredients," said Erick Erickson, director of global strategies for the nonprofit Washington-based grains council, which helps develop export markets for US barley, corn and grain sorghum.

"They have some experience in using sorghum for feed, but mostly they used it in their domestic alcohol production, and so this is really good news for American sorghum producers," Erickson told China Daily.

Historically, China imports most of its sorghum from Australia and Myanmar for alcohol use. The increasing demand for coarse grains has prompted China for the first time to expand its animal-feed ration to include sorghum, according to Global Milling, an online news source for the flour, feed and milling industry.

Sorghum is known as a high-energy, drought tolerant crop with a wide range of applications, including animal feed and liquor, as well as ethanol, a gluten-free food product, and a building material, among other uses.

The US is the world's largest producer of sorghum. Of the 21 sorghum-producing states in the US, the top five in descending order in 2012 were Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and South Dakota, according to the grains council.

This year, the US is forecast to harvest its largest bumper crop in four years with 10 million tons, of which 30 percent to 40 percent is expected to be exported.

The council said "restrictions on corn imports through China's tariff rate quota are providing a prime opportunity for the council to help China's feed industry" as livestock producers "seek a wider variety of options, including US sorghum".

In September, the council said, it provided technical seminars and assistance "to help the industry understand the nutritional value of sorghum, how to incorporate it into feed formulations and the potential for future sorghum export supplies from the United States."

The backdrop for the unloading of the "historic" bulk shipment was the Port of Guangzhou. Located in the center of the Pearl River Delta, the port served as the point of origin for the "Silk Road on the Sea" in the Qin Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago. It became the biggest trading port in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Now the port is South China's largest, connecting with more than 100 domestic ports and 350 foreign ports in more than 80 countries and regions.

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