First, China would need genetically modified seed adapted to its unique agronomic conditions.

Second, China may not be able to tap into some of the best genetic lines currently available because of seed companies’ concerns about China’s questionable record on intellectual property rights, according to Dermot Hayes, the Pioneer Hi-Bred International Chair in Agribusiness at Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD). “The intellectual property issue is working against them. China has a history of small plots cultivated by hand, and their corn is bred for those conditions, for growing corn under intensive hand cultivation,” says Hayes.

“That’s not going to work anymore. Labor is becoming too expensive, and there are better things to do with it than hand cultivate corn.”

Hayes cites pressures on the supply of farmland as another factor working against China’s efforts to grow more corn.

“Some of their farmland now is on mountain sides that are steep and can never be mechanized, and their medium-sized cities are growing incredibly fast,” he says.

Most of all, Hayes cites the growing cost of labor on Chinese farms.

“If you look at the examples of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, as labor became more expensive, they dropped corn production altogether and transitioned really quickly into higher value crops,” he says.

“I would expect to see China shift acres out of corn and into fruits and vegetables – and homes. We’re also seeing them move out of back-yard livestock production and into more intensive animal production.

“Everything points to them moving to more imports of corn and distillers grains and even to meat imports. Within ten years, they will be a major importer of animal feed,” he concludes.