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World briefs, Feb. 2

Chinese premier favours modernization over grain imports

beijing / reuters / China must push forward with modernizing agricultural technology as it faces increasing difficulty in meeting local food demand, Premier Wen Jiabao said in a recent essay.

“The fundamental way out is to enhance the construction of modern agriculture to boost the complex agricultural productivity continuously,” Wen said in an essay released by the Communist Party’s influential magazine Qiushi, or Seeking Truth.

The essay said the country must “give agricultural technology a more prominent status.”

The agricultural sector faces challenges because of a shortage of land and water resources, rising production costs, labour issues, and pollution, Wen said.

China will promote agricultural technology innovation, seed cultivation, mechanization, and further increase subsidies in the sector, especially for grain production, Wen added.

Grain imports “must be put under control,” he said.

The central government estimates that China’s national grain consumption will go beyond 572.5 million tonnes by 2020. Its grain output reached a record high of 571.21 million tonnes last year, up 4.5 per cent on year, the eighth year of growth in a row.

Although China is largely self-sufficient in wheat and rice production, it’s now the world’s top soybean buyer, taking around 60 per cent of global traded supply.

In 2010, the country also returned to importing corn in earnest after years of blocking foreign grain, buying 1.57 million tonnes. The country is expected to triple corn purchases this crop year.

Argentine downpours refresh drought-hit crops

reuters / Argentine corn and soy benefited from soaking rains last week, and they were expected to continue in the weeks ahead, reviving hope that farmers can salvage a good part of crops parched by weeks of hot, dry weather.

The drought, which hit in December after months of below-average rainfall, jacked up grains futures prices and raised concerns about global food supplies. Argentina is the second-biggest exporter of corn and third-largest supplier of soybeans, which serve as an important source of protein for the world.

“The weather should continue to normalize in the weeks ahead, with more regular rainfall in eastern and central parts of the country,” said the state-run National Institute for Agricultural Technology.

But the showers arrived too late for some grains fields.

One agricultural specialist predicted a 2011-12 soy harvest of 42 million to 43 million tonnes, about 20 per cent under original forecasts. He and other private analysts expect this season’s corn crop to be well under the record 23 million tonnes produced in 2010-11. One estimate pegs the corn harvest at just 17 million to 18 million tonnes and a soy crop of just 39 million tonnes.

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