BEIJING, CHINA — China imported 100.86 million tonnes of soybeans in marketing year 2022-23 on the strength of Brazilian shipments, and sustained demand from the country’s feed sector is expected to push 2023-24 to similar levels, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

Recovering demand for soybean meal (SBM) in the swine and poultry sectors as well as increased demand for vegetable oil in the food sector drove 2022-23 imports up an estimated 9.3 million tonnes year-over-year, FAS Post Beijing said. Imports in 2023-24 are projected to be 100 million tonnes.

“The record level of imports also demonstrates China’s willingness to secure soybeans when global supplies are ample, particularly from Brazil – China’s largest supplier of soybeans,” the FAS said. “Supporting demand for Brazilian soybeans, which had a record harvest in 2023, is key to China’s policy of diversifying the origins of its soybean imports.”

Feed production is on the rise, leading to increased use of soybean meal in feed during 2022-23 and 2023-24. Monthly feed production statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) show that in 2022-23, monthly feed production generally exceeded the levels of the previous year. Based on MARA’s monthly data, total feed production in 2022-23 increased by 10.3% year-on-year to 319.8 million tonnes, a net growth of 30 million tonnes.

Industry sources have reported that the demand for feed remained strong in 2022-23. One of the largest feed producers in southern China indicated that its sales value and profits in the first nine months of 2023 increased by 10.1% and 7.1%, respectively, compared to the previous year, the FAS said.

“MARA continues to promote lower protein rations in animal feed as a means of reducing SBM consumption,” the FAS said. “Record-high SBM prices earlier in marketing year 2022-23 incentivized industry to explore alternative feed options.”

The FAS raised its projection for soybean crush in 2023-24 to 96 million tonnes from the previous estimate of 94 million tonnes. This reflects a moderate expansion in demand for soybean products, ample soybean supply and relatively lower soybean meal prices compared to the recent highs.

China’s efforts to incentivize domestic soybean cultivation through various local and national policies continues to support production, though lower prices for soybeans for food use may pose a challenge to sustaining higher volumes.

Soybean production is seen at 19.4 million tonnes in 2022-23, rising slightly to 19.7 million tonnes in 2023-24. Total domestic consumption is set to reach 115.1 million tonnes in the current marketing year and increase to 118.2 million tonnes in 2023-24.