Rising wheat silage demand reflect concerns of crop yields

Recently in Henan, some farmers have begun harvesting immature wheat for use as silage rather than letting the crop mature. This has attracted a large amount of attention on social media and in state media as some are confused about why farmers are diverting wheat to silage when wheat prices within China are near-record prices.

With the increased focus on food security within China in recent years, this practice generated controversy online as some commenters feel that food security is being threatened if farmers are diverting grain crops to animal feed.

While this is a very visible example, it also ignores that China’s feeding of wheat doubled to 40 million tons in the 20/21 marketing year and USDA is currently forecasting 21/22 feeding to be 35 million tons.

One farmer said their fields were near a cattle farm that was having difficulty getting feed due to Covid-related logistics disruptions. To keep their cattle fed, they found it more effective to pay for wheat silage since they were having difficulty sourcing other feed from elsewhere.

Other agriculture experts interviewed by state media stressed that farmers should typically avoid using wheat as silage since they would generate higher returns if the wheat was allowed to mature. Some experts did try to qualify this by also saying that in special cases, such as very late planting or poor crop development, it might be reasonable to harvest the wheat as silage if the final grain yields were expected to be poor.

Assessments of China’s wheat crop have been highly variable this year, with the Minister of Agriculture saying the wheat seedling situation was the worst in history earlier this year but now most state media is saying the crop has recovered in the spring and conditions are similar to previous years.

Many of these assessments are also relying increasingly on remote-sensing data rather than field tours as travel within China remains difficult.

While the remote-sensing data is positive, it could be a negative sign if some farmers are deciding to harvest crops early for silage rather than wait until the crop reaches maturing given how expensive wheat prices are.