China’s soybean import prospects have suffered long-term damage from its African swine fever epidemic – which, by contrast, has sent soaring prospects for its beef, pork and poultry imports.
The US Department of Agriculture, in a much-watched annual briefing forecasting long-term agricultural commodity supply and demand, slashed to 109.3m tonnes its estimate of soybean imports as of 2028-29, from a figure of 126.1m tonnes made a year ago.
Not until 2026-27 will China’s soybean imports top 100m tonnes, five years later than had been expected, officials said, citing the “continuing impact of African swine fever and projections of slower gains in soybean meal consumption”.
The outbreak undermined feed demand by prompting a massive cut in pig numbers, with the USDA estimating the Chinese swine herd at 300.0m head as of the end of this year, down from 441.6m head two years before, in advance of the epidemic.
‘Sisease pressures, scarcity of land…’
Indeed, the USDA said that its latest ag commodity projections “incorporate impacts of an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic in China that began in 2018”.
The USDA acknowledged that “Chinese authorities took aggressive measures to restore swine production”.
However, “projections show a slow recovery that continues through most of the projection period due to biological lags, continuing disease pressures, scarcity of land, capital and technical expertise, and rising production costs”.
The total destruction to soybean import demand caused by the disease in the decade to 2028-29 amounts to more than 150m tonnes, in terms of comparing the latest USDA forecasts with the previous ones.
The slowdown will have implications for other grains too, with the USDA also making, smaller, cuts to Chinese import expectations for feed grains, such as corn barley and sorghum.
The estimate for Chinese imports of barley – also used to make beer - as of 2028-29 was cut to 8.8m tonnes, from 12.4m tonnes.
“China is expected to maintain strong demand for feed barley imports, but the volume will be less than the peak reached in 2013-14.”
Pork import surge
By contrast, the long-running downturn in China’s domestic pork production will provide a sharp boost to meat import needs.
“China’s imports of pork soared to a record high in 2019 and are projected to grow throughout the projection period as China becomes the world’s top pork importer,” the USDA said.
“China’s imports of beef and poultry meat are also projected to rise.”
The USDA hiked its forecast for China’s pork imports as of calendar 2028 to 4.61m tonnes – more than double the 2.10m-tonne figure it had previous pencilled in.
‘Greater consumption of substitute meats’
For beef, the Chinese import forecast as of 2028 was raised to 3.84m tonnes – twice the 1.89m tonnes previously expected, and a figure which would make the country by far the biggest buyer, with Japan in second place on 904,000 tonnes.
The USDA, noting “rising [Chinese] demand for beef that outpaces domestic production growth”, said that “high pork prices due to production shortfalls due to African swine fever result in greater consumption of substitute meats”.
For poultry, 2028 imports were forecast at 1.23m tonnes, up from a previous 2028 forecast of 599,000 tonnes, although still leaving the country as the fifth-largest buyer.
“China’s rising poultry meat consumption is met primarily by domestic production,” the department said.
Among exporters, US prospects were seen as improved most by the change in dynamics, with the country now seen overtaking the European Union, with exports of 4.69m tonnes as of 2028, compared with a previous forecast of 3.08m tonnes.
For beef, Brazil was seen picking up substantial demand, with its 2028 exports now seen at 3.89m tonnes, an upgrade of nearly 1.0m tonnes.
A number of geographies, including Brazil, the European Union, Thailand and the US, saw poultry export hopes upgraded.