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China imports dairy cows

China is importing more dairy cows to try and beef up its transition to larger-scale farms, as the industry attempts to boost production and quality following a deadly scandal.

China plans to nearly double milk production to 64 million tonnes by 2020, as part of a long-term plan by the Ministry of Agriculture to improve nutrition for the world’s largest population. Its seven million cows now produce about 38 million tonnes.

The dairy industry has a long way to go, after 300,000 babies were sickened and at least six killed in 2008 after farmers and middlemen mixed poor-quality milk with melamine, a chemical formed from coal, to cheat protein tests.

“There is rising demand for milk, while the domestic dairy cow herd is not enough and milk yield is low,” said Chen Lianfang, a senior analyst with Beijing Orient Agri-business Consultant Co. Ltd.

Following the melamine scandal, demand for milk plunged and Chinese dairy exports were shunned. Small farmers slaughtered their cows as about 40 per cent of small-size farms shut.

New breeding stock are now in heavy demand as the government promotes big and modern dairy farms to replace many backyard breeders.

Dairy cow imports in 2011 reached 100,000 head, Chen estimated, up from 80,000 head the year before. The lion’s share comes from New Zealand and Australia, with Uruguay the third country from which imports are allowed.

That poses a problem since dairy herds in those three countries tend to be pasture fed. China lacks fertile, rich pasture land and is instead developing large-scale farms where cows are kept in barns and fed fodder.

“After the melamine incident, the dairy industry treats quality and better dairy cows as a priority,” said Dou Ming, who publishes Holstein Farmers, a Chinese magazine.

“Many large dairy farms, with more than 1,000 head each have been built or planned.”

Demand for genetic stock developed for barns helped lift imports of bull semen from the U.S. alone to $4.74 million in 2010, up from $2.7 million in 2009 and a mere $714,000 in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

China has suspended live cattle imports from Europe and North America since 2006, due to mad cow disease.

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