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Chinese hunger for pork could be corn growers' best friend

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Corn producers should be praying for Chinese consumers to increase their appetite for pork.

The days of soaring use of the grain in making biofuels look past.

The US, the top proponent of corn-based ethanol, is set to rebuild its ethanol use next season from levels depressed by the current supply squeeze - but not by much, with consumption forecast to remain more than 300m bushels below the 2010-11 high.

But the growth in Chinese corn consumption, and thereby imports, may have a long way to run if its mainland population gains the same taste for pork that peers in Hong Kong do, according to calculations by commodities giant Glencore.

'Underlying demand growth'

While the Chinese have already increased their per capita consumption of pork more than threefold since 1980, from 11 kilogrammes to 38 kilogrammes, that is still a way behind the 80 kilogrammes per head that Hong Kong residents eat.

"I don't say it will, but if China were to reach the same consumption as Hong Kong that increased pork consumption would require an additional 160m tonnes of corn," to feed the necessary number of pigs, said Chris Mahoney, the Glencore director of agricultural products.

That is equivalent to half the harvest in the US, the biggest corn producing country (even in a good year).

And it represents a huge increase from the 209.5m tonnes China will consume in 2012-13, according to US Department of Agriculture estimates, besides implying a mammoth increase in the country's pig herd, which already accounts for more than half the world's total.

It also implies a far bigger rise than analysts currently have on the cards for even the medium term, with the USDA currently foreseeing total Chinese demand reaching some 250m tonnes as of 2021-22.

Mr Mahoney added: "India is not exactly the same, but has similar characteristics. This obviously very well illustrates what many people know, and that is the underlying demand growth that is underpinning the ag markets."

Export bottleneck

The comments followed Glencore's release of annual results showing a sharp improvement in agricultural trading profits, but a decline in earnings from energy and metals.

Mr Mahoney also highlighted the logistical problems facing Brazil as it attempts to bring a record soybean crop to port, and meet pent up demand from importers.

The cost of taking soybeans from the main producing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Paranagua is roughly $125 a tonne, or some 20-25% of the sale price – or, for corn, up to 50%.

And once in Paranagua, crops faced increasing delays to get on to ships, with vessel waiting times increasing from 20 days at peak time in 2011 to 40-45 days last year.

"I think 2013 will be considerably worse because we have a very large crop in Brazil," he said.


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