Every year China strengthens its position on the global dairy market. The country has been a major producer of milk – in 2019 China ranked as the 5th largest milk producer with output estimated at 31 million metric tonnes and last year it jumped to 4th place with 33 million metric tonnes of the product. However, the demand for dairy products is growing at a high pace and the Chinese government keeps implementing the procedures which eventually aim at boosting the national production to 45 million tonnes by 2025. 

 

The current situation 

The Chinese dairy sector is quickly developing in response to a hugely increased demand for milk and dairy goods. In order to meet the ambitious goal for domestic production, China will have to face some important issues. Presently, local production allows covering around 70% of the Chinese dairy consumption but the country’s production capacity needs to keep up with the forthcoming demand. China’s domestic production is expensive and results in reliance on international imports – in 2020 the country purchased 3.37 million metric tonnes of dairy products.

 

Growing production

One of the factors responsible for high production costs is the limitation in domestic animal forage – the manufacturers often need to import grains and milk powder. Nevertheless, there are also positive trends emerging from the Chinese dairy sector. Although the overall number of dairy cows is expected to slowly decrease from 6.15 million in 2020 to 5.94 million by 2025, the average number of cows per farm is increasing rapidly. The production capacity is also growing – in 2017 the average yearly yield per cow was 4,600 kilograms but is expected to rise to over 5,500 kilograms by 2024. 

 

Consolidation

During the last few years, the smaller businesses owning up to a few hundred cows were incorporated by the larger companies which can now present an impressive herd of even tens of thousands of dairy cows. The bigger players were able to adapt more accurately to the evolving regulations and with the technological advancements and professional knowledge they can now obtain an average daily yield of 30-40 kg of the product per cow.

 

Modernization

Another peculiarity typical for the Chinese farms is that the work is rarely automated – the big milking rotaries are trending while the Automated Milking Systems are rather uncommon. This is due to China’s extensive possibilities of hiring employees at dairy farms and the companies not being forced to invest in technological assistance. However, dairy producers are increasingly using total mixed rations (TMR) as forage. The share of manufacturers applying TMR technology grew from 30% to 90% between 2008 and 2018 which is a sign of increased modernization. 

 

The future of the Chinese dairy market

 Recent data estimates that Chinese milk production will reach 34.5 million metric tonnes in 2021 – a 5% growth from the previous year. At large-scale farms, the average yield per cow is expected to reach 8 tonnes in 2020. For the future, experts predict that the Chinese dairy market will see a further decrease in the number of small farms in favor of more large-scale producers with at least 3,000 cows. A moderate shift towards automation is also expected as urbanization tendencies may limit the availability of the workforce. The Chinese government will need to continue supporting the farmers through aid programs and strengthening the domestic brands. 

 

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