Chinese Wheat: Current Situation and Prospects


China is the world's largest wheat producer and consumer, and for many years it was the largest wheat importer too. All kinds of traditional Chinese food made from wheat flour, such as noodles, dumplings, pastry and steamed bread, are very popular.

1. Wheat Production
China's wheat production in 2002 was estimated at 90.29 mio t, about 16% of the total world production of 565.48 mio t. During the 1990s, favourable weather helped China produce bumper wheat crops, with 1997 production topping 123 mio t. Over the past five years, production averaged 101.5 mio t. From 1994 to 1998, the total grain planting area in China increased from 109.5 mio hectares to 113.8 mio hectares. Since 1998, the total grain area has decreased by around 9%, with only about 103.9 mio hectares seeded for grain in 2002. This decrease is the result of rising urban and industrial development and a trend toward growing other crops such as oilseeds, cotton, fruits and vegetables. The wheat planting area has declined by 22% over the past 10 years due to adverse weather and huge stocks, combined with government policies to discourage growing low quality wheat. China's wheat area is expected to drop below 1.24 mio hectares in 2003, resulting in an estimated production of about 87 mio t. This represents a 3.6% drop from last year and a 14.3% drop from the five-year average of 101.5 mio t (see Tab. 31 and Fig. 25).
Fig. 25: Wheat-seeded area and production in China (1990 - 2003)

Tab. 31: Grain and wheat-seeded area and production in China, 1990 - 2003 a
Wheat can be seeded almost everywhere in China, and winter wheat accounts for 84% of the total growing area. The regions for it are mainly located to the south of the Great Wall, in the provinces of Henan, Shandong, Hebei, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Anhui, Shannxi, Hubei and Shanxi. Another 16% of the area for spring wheat seeding lies to the north of the Great Wall in Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia and Qinhai.

2. Wheat Use
China's total domestic consumption of wheat averaged 108.5 mio t over the past five years, with about 93 mio t used for human consumption and about 4 mio t used for feed. The remainder included waste and wheat used for industrial purposes and seed. It is interesting to note that wheat for feed use has been increasing steadily from 1.2 mio t in 1998/99 to 6.5 mio t in 2002/03, due to the rapid development of the livestock industry and higher corn prices in the last few years. Milling wheat consumption has decreased over the last few years, from 95 mio t in 1998/99 to 90 mio t in 2002/03 (Tab. 32). Per capita consumption has dropped from about 77 kg per year to 70 kg, the result of increased health awareness and a rising per capita income, which have led to more diversified diets among the population.
Tab. 32: Wheat use in China 1998 - 2003a (June - May; 1,000 t)
 3. Wheat Trade
Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, China imported large quantities of wheat each year to meet rising consumption needs, the peak being 12.4 mio t in the calendar year 1991. Beginning in 1995, this figure began to fall considerably, and less than 1.5 mio t were imported in 1998. Subsequent years have seen further drops, with only 0.45 mio t imported in 1999 and 0.6 mio t imported in 2002 (Tab. 33 and Fig. 26). These reductions can be attributed to bumper wheat crops in the period 1992 - 1999 and high wheat imports in the first half of the 1990s, which sent China's wheat stocks soaring to unprecedented levels. China has been in a position to export some wheat for the past two years. In 2002, China exported around 0.69 mio t to Southeast Asian countries and imported 0.6 mio t, which made China a net wheat exporter for the first time in history. Poor harvests by major wheat exporters elsewhere in the world and price hikes contributed to the unexpectedly sharp growth of exports. Moreover, China has exported around 1 mio t from January to August 2003, compared with imports of only 0.2 mio t during the same period. Under the rules of the World Trade Organization, China opens a global tariff-rate quota of 7.3 mio t of wheat, rising with annual increments to 9.6 mio t by 2004.
Fig. 26: Chinese wheat import data 1991 - 2004
Tab. 33: Chinese wheat import and export data, 1991 - 2004a
 4. Wheat Quality
Although China has sound wheat production to meet domestic consumption, it lacks highquality wheat for the needs of food processing due to unreasonable quality structures, with less strong-gluten wheat suitable for bread and weak-gluten wheat for cookies and pastry. More and more emphasis is being placed on the quality of wheat production in China as the standard of living of Chinese customers rises and the demand for higher-quality wheat products increases. Furthermore, East and Southeast Asian countries have a large market for the high-quality wheat exported from China each year.
Tab. 34: Chinese high quality wheat seeded area and productiona
Although the total wheat planting area and production have decreased over the past few years, the area for high-quality wheat growing has risen sharply to 6 mio hectares in 2001 from 1 mio hectares in 1996 (Tab. 34). However, there are some problems with regard to quality, for example, the stability time (Farinograph) and extension area (Extensograph) of dough average around 3 min and 52 cm2 respectively, much less than the 12 min and 100 cm2 for foreign dough. Large differences between regions, scattered growing, backward technology, lack of proper management etc. are the reasons for the inferior quality of the wheat.
Fig. 27: Chinese wheat planting zones
To solve the existing problems, three wheat planting zones will be established in China in the next few years. By the year 2007, China's planting area for fine breeds of wheat will be 40% of the gross wheat planting area, up 20% over 2001. The three special wheat planting zones are being created in the reaches of the Yellow, Huai and Hai rivers, along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the Greater Khingan Mountain Range, in the provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Jiangsu, Anhui and Heilongjiang (Fig. 27).

5. Wheat Standards

Tab. 35: Chinese wheat classes
Tab. 36: Grades of Chinese wheat
China updated standards for wheat and formulated standards for strong/weak gluten wheat in 1999, and standards for wheat flour and strong/weak gluten wheat flour have existed since 1986 and 1988 respectively. There are 9 classes and 5 grades of wheat (Tab. 35 and Tab. 36). The wheat classes are subdivided into 2 classes of high quality strong gluten wheat (Tab. 37), two classes of high quality weak gluten wheat (Tab. 38) and 3 classes of wheat for specific end-uses (Tab. 39).
Tab. 37: High quality wheat – strong gluten wheat
Tab. 38: High quality wheat - weak gluten wheat
Tab. 39: Wheat classes for specific end-uses
However, most experts suggest revising some of the tests in the standards because of out-of-date data and practical procedures. China will prepare new standards for the following three special wheat planting zones by 2007:

Standards for Strong Gluten
Hard White Wheat in the Regions of the Yellow, Huai and Hai Rivers Standards for White Winter Wheat varieties and qualities, strong gluten Hard White Wheat, middle gluten Hard White Wheat and processing regulations for strong gluten Hard White Wheat in North China and north of the reaches of the Yellow and Huai rivers will be drawn up according to local wheat varieties and qualities and the demands of wheat processors.

Standards for Weak Gluten
Soft Wheat along the Lower Reaches of the Yangtze River Standards for White/Red Winter Soft Wheat varieties and qualities, Soft White/Red Wheat and processing regulations for weak gluten Soft White/Red Wheat on the banks of the Jiangsu and the regions of Hubei, Henan and Anhui will be drawn up according to local wheat varieties and qualities and the different requirements of cookies, pastry and Chinese steamed food.

Standards for Strong Gluten
Hard Red Spring Wheat along the Greater Khingan Mountain Range Standards for Hard Red Spring Wheat varieties and qualities, Hard Red Spring Wheat and processing regulations for Hard Red Spring Wheat in northeast China will be drawn up according to Canadian and U.S. standards for Hard Red Spring wheat.

6. Wheat Flour
At present about 10% of the wheat flour in China is high-quality special flour for making bread, cookies and dumplings; 50% is used for steamed bread, noodles and instant noodles, and the remaining 40% is poor quality flour consumed in towns and villages. The use of special flour will increase in the next few years as a result of the improving standard of living and different demands for foods and diets. With the rapid development of the milling industry in China, the wheat processors with a capacity of over 50 t per day have now reached around 9,800 in number, 80 of which can mill 400 t of wheat per day; a further 500 can mill 200 - 400 t per day. China's annual milling capacity has reached 350 mio t, much more than the demand of 110 mio t of wheat. The wheat milling industry in China will therefore become more competitive in the near future.

7. Wheat Flour Standards
Wheat flour is divided into four main classes (Tab. 40). Furthermore, there are two grades each for high-gluten and low-gluten flour (Tab. 41 and Tab. 42). This system is complemented by flour standards for bread, noodles, dumplings, steamed bread, fermented cookies, crisp cookies, cakes and pastry (not shown).
Tab. 40: Chinese wheat flour classes
Tab. 41: Grading system for high-gluten flour
Tab. 42: Grading system for low-gluten flour


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