Early in September, the first sows arrived at the massive, 26-story building looming above a little settlement in central China. The female pigs were sent to the higher levels where they would live from insemination to maturity in industrial elevators hundreds at a time.
The is pig farming in China, a country with a shortage of agricultural land, lagging food production, and a strategic need for pork.
The pigs are watched by high-definition cameras by uniformed specialists in a NASA-like command centre within the massive structure,It is as tall as the London tower that holds Big Ben and resembles the monolithic apartment buildings that are common across China.For the many phases of a young pig’s life, each floor functions as a self-contained farm, with a place for pregnant pigs, a room for farrowing piglets, areas for nursing, and a space for fattening the young hogs.
Feed is transported on a conveyor line to the top level, where it is gathered in enormous tanks. From there, the food is sent to the floors below through high-tech feeding troughs that mechanically distribute the meal to the hogs based on their weight, health, and life stage.
The structure, which is outside of Ezhou, a city on the Yangtze River’s southern bank, is being heralded as the largest free-standing pig farm in the world, and a second one that is nearly identical will shortly open as well. When both buildings are fully occupied later this year, the first farm will have been in operation since October and will be able to produce 1.2 million pigs yearly.
Pigs have long been a favourite animal in China. For many years, backyard pigs were farmed by rural Chinese families as valued livestock since they provided not only meat but also manure. Due to the fact that historically, pork was only offered on exceptional occasions, pigs also have cultural value as a symbol of riches.
China consumes half of the world’s pig meat, which makes it the most pork-consuming nation in the world today. The nation’s strategic pork reserve, a government meat stockpile that can maintain prices when supplies run short, is used to carefully regulate and regularly monitor pork prices as a gauge of inflation.
However, compared to other big nations where pig raising became industrialised long ago, pork costs are greater here. As part of Beijing’s effort to bridge that gap, dozens of additional enormous mechanised pig farms have popped up all throughout China in recent years.
The Ezhou farm was constructed by Hubei Zhongxin Kaiwei Modern Animal Husbandry, a former cement producer turned pig breeder. It serves as a symbol of China’s desire to modernise hog production.
According to the company’s CEO Zhuge Wenda, “China’s present pig breeding is still decades behind the most sophisticated nations.” “This gives us freedom to grow so we can catch up,”
The farm is located next to the company’s cement plant in a part of the nation known as the “Land of Fish and Rice” because of how important its rich farmlands and nearby bodies of water are to Chinese cuisine.
Despite having the moniker of a pig farm, the business is more like a Foxconn factory for pigs, complete with the exacting standards needed for an iPhone assembly line. Even pig waste is measured, collected, and put to good use. Approximately 25% of the feed will be excreted as dry waste that may be converted to methane and used to produce power.
China still lags behind the majority of the industrialised world in terms of effective food production, six decades after a famine that claimed the lives of tens of millions of its citizens. More than half of the world’s soybeans are imported by China, which mostly uses them as animal feed. For almost 20% of the world’s population, it possesses 10% of the planet’s arable land. Compared to other major economies, its farms produce less maize, wheat, and soybeans per acre and at a higher cost.
The flaws grew increasingly obvious in recent years as China’s potential risk to food security was highlighted by trade disagreements with the U.S., supply interruptions brought on by pandemics, and the war in Ukraine. China’s president, Xi Jinping, prioritised agricultural independence in a policy speech in December.
Before becoming a great power, a nation must enhance its agricultural, and only a strong agriculture can make a nation strong, according to Mr. Xi. He has already issued a warning that if we don’t keep our rice bowl stable, China would “fall under others’ domination.”
Pork is the most crucial protein for the Chinese rice bowl. 2019 saw the State Council, China’s cabinet, issue a regulation requiring all government agencies to promote the pork sector, particularly by providing funding for more expansive pig farms. Beijing also declared that multistory farming will be permitted in the same year, allowing pig farmers to go vertical and rear more hogs on comparatively smaller plots of land.
Yu Ping, executive director of Yu’s Design Institute, a business that designs pig farms, said, “This is a milestone and not only for China. I think multistory farms will have an impact on the world.”
Small backyard farms have vanished as China has modernised and hundreds of millions of people have moved from rural to urban areas. According to a research from the industry, the total number of pig farms in China producing fewer than 500 hogs annually has decreased by 75% since 2007, reaching about 21 million in 2020.
When African swine flu decimated China’s pork sector and, according to some estimates, killed off 40% of its pig population in 2018, the trend towards mega-farms intensified.
Hog towers and other enormous pig farms, according to Brett Stuart, head of the market research company Global AgriTrends, worsen the largest danger to China’s pork industry: illness. It is more difficult to avoid contamination while raising so many pigs in one location. He claimed that major pork producers in the US dispersed their farms to lower the risk to biosecurity.
When American hog farmers see images of those farms in China, they simply scoff and declare, “We would never dare to do that,” according to Mr. Stuart. It’s simply too dangerous.
However, when pork prices tripled in a single year and Beijing backed massive pig farms, the benefits seemed to exceed the risks. A construction boom followed, and a market with limited supply was flooded with all the pigs that were available. Prices for pork have decreased by over 60% since their peak in 2019. The Chinese pork market exhibits volatility akin to that of Bitcoin, riding boom-or-bust cycles that can generate enormous gains or losses depending on the price changes.
Jiangxi Zhengbang Technology, a massive hog manufacturer that has grown quickly in recent years, said last month that it was informed it would be delisted from the Shenzhen Stock Exchange due to worries that the business is insolvent.According to Pan Chenjun, executive director of RaboResearch’s food and agricultural section, “the government hopes that consolidation would make pricing more predictable and less erratic over time.”
The ultimate objective is “that.”Mega-farmers are springing up in rural areas where private farms formerly littered the landscape. Three years ago, when the real estate and infrastructure industries began to falter, Hubei Zhongxin Kaiwei made the decision to use a nearby piece of land and its building know-how to expand into a sector with more promising development prospects. The high-rise pig farms were constructed with an investment of $600 million, and an additional $900 million was set up for a neighbouring meat processing factory
The business claimed that their experience with cement is relevant in pig husbandry. It employed its current workforce to construct a reinforced concrete high-rise that conserved land. It uses extra heat from the cement mill to provide the pigs warm baths and drinking water. Hubei Zhongxin Kaiwei claims that by doing this, the pigs will develop more quickly while using less feed.It’s challenging for small backyard pig growers to compete on that scale.
Qiao Yuping, 66, and her husband rear 20 to 30 pigs annually in northern China’s Liaoning Province. She claimed they lost money last year when the price of pork dropped. Mega-farms, according to her,increase the cost of animal feed and vaccines, which makes them difficult to ignore.