A change in regional leadership in Chinese provinces can bring a raft of new personnel and policies. Recently, Anhui province and its beef sector was a strong beneficiary of such a change.

Han Jun, who was previously the governor of north-eastern Jilin province, became the new party secretary for Anhui and with it, brought a whole new focus on beef.

In Jilin, under Han’s leadership, some impressive beef initiatives were put into motion, including a 10 million cattle policy goal and the construction of 210 new units capable of stocking no less than 1,000 head each.

Now that the leader has moved onto pastures new, the future and prospects of these projects are uncertain, and I look forward to visiting again soon.

Beef expansion policies

In Anhui, the beef expansion policies are beginning to take shape. Anhui, unlike Jilin, is not an ideal climate for cattle, with a long summer and basically no access to grazing land.

In the north of Anhui, there is a corn belt and a lot of crop production, which is a key feeder for the large eastern board population centres in China. In this area, there is wide access to grains and straw.

I visited Fuyang in northern Anhui this week to check out firsthand what was happening. My first stop was to visit a large farm that used to house 10,000 sows, but had been struck down by African swine fever.

A local entrepreneur showed me his plan to convert the farm into a feedlot for 10,000 head, including a couple of thousand suckler cows.

That evening, we went to try the local beef dish. ChaHua beef noodle soup has a rich history, and the restaurant is carrying a 1000-year-old recipe. I understood that little has changed in the restaurant since the 1980s.

When I asked the restaurant, they admitted they were using frozen beef, likely imported from South America.

The next day, we met the local government responsible for agricultural investment.

They had the funding ready to build 12 new largescale farms in their county, and are offering attractive terms to people to lease these units and build a beef industry in their county from the ground up.

The officials were in a hurry to build the farms and get cattle in there as quickly as possible to meet the new government policy targets.

In the afternoon, we visited some of the existing feedlots around Fuyang. One of these feedlots has capacity for 2,000 head, but due to poor management and very low beef prices, there were only 100 head.

Over a long lunch with the farmer, we heard of his challenges in selling his animals and he pointed out that there is no processing facility within 150km and no local supply chain, despite the local taste for beef.

Two realities

It can be dizzying to try to balance these two realities at once.

In one reality, it is possible to build new farms in a matter of months and populate them with cattle from somewhere else, all fueled by government subsidies, while at the same time, people with cattle in the very same area are losing money ‘hand over fist’.

In China, there is always a confidence that in a big market, just build it and a market will come.

It’s a policy approach that spurs growth. Building things can be easy, but a sustainable and profitable sector is always a far taller order.

And as you think about the prospects and challenges facing your farming operation in the coming year, spare a thought for those Chinese farmers and cattle who aren’t fortunate enough to benefit from the honeypot of subsidies.