Frontiering the Chinese “West”: a Closer Look

Page 5

Table XX

Xinjiang Wheat vs Maize Production 1997-2010
China Statistical Yearbook
Lower Portion: Wheat (1000 MT)
Upper Portion: Maize (1000 MT)

Wgheat vs Corn Cinjiang edited

It is quite clear from recent (2008) planning documents that the province level economic planners have been trying to reverse this descent into “maize-first” farming, but it is also clear from more recent (2013) data that this has not been possible – that in fact maize continues to gain, while wheat, the preferred nutrition of/for the Territory’s Uzbek and Kazakh majority, has been unable to regain momentum. A minimum per capita per annum calorie supply from wheat seems to have been accepted (or forced) in 2004-07, when less than 1,500 “wheat” calories/pa/pd was available and, to the obvious dismay of the planner, wheat had to be hauled in from the northeast at state expense, perhaps even at deregulated (“market”) price levels. How much and at what price is not public information, but the raft of new “food-support’ policies that were thereby triggered is very much “public”, bunching around the somewhat obscure label/slogan 一喷三防” (yipen sanfang), or “one spray-treatment to prevent three blights”, presumably of insecticide and fertilizer. From the string (litany) of inputs and costs/subsidies that follow, the help-in-time beneficiaries of the province are made very aware that, with so much state money now on the line, it is imperative that even higher yields be squeezed from ecologically tormented Western Xinjiang; though it is also fairly evident that there is not much if any room for further expansion of yields by more labor or any other “plus” in the input column.

Sinkiang wheart yileds and areage edited

Comparisons with the fate of wheat growing in the US plains is not automatically appropriate, since “middle” US agriculture has always been land- and plow-animal intensive (what is usually called capital-“extensive”), and not labor-intensive – as well as sensitive to US East Coast and trans-Atlantic demand, whose need for surplus (imported) cereals kept the overall production of prairies-grown food at very low levels relative to the self-consumption driven demand (on a much smaller supply of land) for wheat as a staple. But it seems worth noting that in the US setting, “maize” and later soybeans gradually supplanted wheat in the “food belt”, and did so, I would suggest, because soil reinforcement or renewal paid much higher and quicker dividends – neither of these competing crops being anywhere near as susceptible to drought and “dustbowl” erosion as was wheat in its first (non-GM..) reincarnation. (Agro-consolidation after dustbowl foreclosures also helped drive the switchover to “market-economy” corn and soy).

Fig XXX Wheat as an “orphan” (same-seed rather than hybridizeable) crop in the US farm matrix: Stagnant Yields are the price of genetic (conservative) crop selection …

Corn vs Wheat YHields 1870 to 2010 US

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