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Planting grass: a sunrise industry in China

Published on 2 November, 2006, Last updated at 11:31 GMT


At present, in regions of abundant grass resources, grass industry is regarded as a big industry and is becoming the new economic growth point during structure adjustment of agriculture。

"Grass industry is one of the industries that have the longest industry chain and absorb the most scientific and technological methods and employees." said Professor Ren Jizhou, a famous grass expert and a renowned academician in Chinese Academy of Engineering, "Grass industry has multiple functions: from ecological safeguard to plant production, animal production, then further to product processing and circulation among big agricultural industries like farming, forestry, and animal husbandry." The industry mainly covers grassland animal husbandry, grass products sector, turf sector, and non-grazing grassland sector.

Hong Fuzeng, member of the Standing Committee of CPPCC National Committee and head of "Sustainable Development Strategy of China's Grass Industry" expert group, reckons that "as a matter of fact, since mid-1980s when Mr. Qian Xuesen put forward the theory of making grass an industry, turf industry, grass-seed industry, forage industry, and others like agricultural machinery, pesticide and fertilizer have become rising-sun industries, showing thriving vitality. In the US, grass industry is listed as top 10 big industries."

As introduced by academician Ren Jizhou, it is forage other than grain ration that causes China's pressure in grain problem. In the future 15 years or even longer, if calculated by converting people's grain ration and livestock's forage jointly as "food equivalent unit", the grain ration accounts for 30 percent while the latter takes up 70 percent. If calculated by the absolute weight, the demand of grain ration and forage is around 200 and 500 million tons respectively.

Feed nutrition is basically from forage, thus grassland agriculture is required, namely grass industry. If the cultivating agriculture that basically produces grain is securing the grain safety of the country, then grassland agriculture that mainly supplies animal production is securing the food safety of the country. Only grass industry can fulfill people's food demand and ensure ecological health at the same time.

Forage industry, which has a close relationship with grassland husbandry industry, has a huge market potential too. The current demand of green forages like alfalfa product is growing sharply in both domestic and international markets. The annual gap of forage grass in international market amounts to 10 million tons, and the price of alfalfa pellets is around $250 per ton. Japan, Korea and South Asia import alfalfa meal and pellets mostly from the US and Canada.

Turf industry also has a great future. The green area per capita in Chinese cities with a population of over 1 million is less than 4 square meters, far away from the international standard of 30-40 square meters. Along with the development of environment protection, city construction, gardening, sports, and holiday industry, turf industry is playing a more and more important role in the city greening. The market potential is great.

The grassland productivity per hectare of China is 7 animal product units, equivalent to only 30 percent of the world average level. The natural condition of grassland in China is similar to that in North America, whilst the productivity is clearly different. What's the reason?

Academician Ren Jizhou reckons that building grass industry hasn't yet become the common understanding. Grassland's importance in maintaining the ecological and food safety, as well as promoting economic and social development hasn't drawn enough concern from the society.

At the same time, over grazing has been the predominant problem along with the population growth and industry development since 1950s. The average over-grazing rate of grasslands in North China is more than 36 percent. The production capacity of grassland is increasingly shrinking; now the average grass output has dropped by 1/3 to 2/3 compared with early 1960s. In recent years, though the government's input in grassland is far beyond the aggregate of that since 1950s, the total investment is yet inadequate and infrastructure construction in grassland areas is far behind other regions. There exist degradations at different degrees in 90 percent of usable natural grasslands. Insiders said, to accelerate grass industry in our country, grass production system should be upgraded, grass industrialization should be improved, technological support of grass industry should be reinforced, capital input should be perfected, and demonstration zones for grass industry should be constructed for trial.

To upgrade grass production system, firstly the supply structure of forage grass should be adjusted and the base construction of artificial forage grass should be reinforced. Hong Fuzeng thought that artificial grass area and productivity could reflect the overall development level of a country's animal husbandry. The total value of grassland animal products will double when the percentage of artificial grassland area in total grassland area increases by 10 percent.

China has the second largest grassland area in the world, in which artificial grassland is however less than 3 percent. In case China's artificial grassland area reaches 33 million hectares and grassland enclosure reaches 66 million hectares, the grass productivity of the country could increase by 10-20 folds and the output of animal products per hectare could realize over 45 animal products units.

In the second place, the flock structure should be optimized and scientific feeding method should be improved. Rotational grazing should be carried out so as to change the situation of over grazing; livestock structure should be improved, new varieties should be introduced, the proportion of excellent varieties should be larger, and confinement and semi-confinement feeding should be adopted; scientific feeding technology should be popularized so as to raise the use and transformation rate of forage grass.

Thirdly, the combination of cultivation and animal husbandry should be promoted. A three-dimensional planting structure, namely grain crop, cash crops and forage, will be gradually formed in conditioned regions. Some measures should be taken, like returning cropland to grass, planting grass in fields, rotating grass and field crops, and planting corn silage etc., in order to develop the herbivorous animal husbandry and realize the co-development between planting and breeding.

As for technological support, Hong Fuzeng held the view to develop a quality-benefit grass industry, study on and solve the key technical problems in grass industry development, and increase the contribution of grass technology by focusing on the following aspects: degradation-prevention and rational use of grasslands in the North, highly-efficient and rational development of Southern grasslands, and grassland development in farming-pastoral ecotones. 

As for fund and policy, Du Qinglin, Minister of Agriculture, said in June that the multi-dimensional input mechanism of grass industry would be expedited, and diversified investment system with public finance as the main channel would be established. He also said that social funds such as enterprises at home and abroad, and farmer and herdsman individuals, would be encouraged to invest in the protection of grasslands and the development of grass industry. At the meantime, policies supporting grass industry would be increasingly perfected; ecology compensation system would be built, and grassland ecological migration would be implemented steadily in order to release pressures on resources and environment; grassland protection and grass industry development will be supported by fiscal, tax, credit and financing fields.

In addition, academician Ren Jizhou reckoned it is necessary to build demonstration zones in grass industry.


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