(Corrects name of official on second reference)
By Niu Shuping and Ken Wills
BEIJING, March 7 (Reuters) - China’s northeast province of Heilongjiang, the country’s top corn and soy grower, aims to raise total grains output by eight percent in 2012 and will expand its corn acreage by paring back on land for soy, a local agriculture official said.
Heilongjiang produced 15 percent, or 26.76 million tonnes, of China’s total corn output in 2011, equal to the total harvest in Argentina, the world’s second largest corn exporter.
“Corn acreage will be increased slightly while soy acreage will fall,” Sui Fengfu, director of the General Bureau of State Farms in Heilongjiang, told reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament congress late on Tuesday.
China’s corn supply has grabbed the attention of grains markets as imports from the world’s second largest corn consumer have jumped since 2010 after domestic supplies failed to meet demand for the grain used to fatten animals in a country that is eating more meat.
The Heilongjiang bureau, which manages 112 farms, has the largest area of arable land cultivated in the northern part of the province, nicknamed “Northern Great Wildness” or Beidahuang.
Sui did not say how much corn the province aims to produce in 2012.
Heilongjiang, which contributes a third of the country’s soy output, cut its soy acreage by 10 percent in 2011, reducing output by 7.5 percent, or 5.4 million tonnes, from a year earlier.
Across China, soy acreage has been shrinking over the past decade as farmers have turned to higher-yielding crops. China has switched from being self-sufficient in soy to being the world’s top soy importer, accounting for over 60 percent of the global sea-borne market.
But with food security a major concern, China has been looking to own at least some overseas supplies.
Sui said the province’s Beidahuang State Farm Group has started to plant soybeans on 13,000 hectares of farmland in Argentina and may ship the soy back to China.
State media reported last July that the company plans to cultivate 234,000 hectares of farmland in Argentina in coming years to grow corn and other crops.
Beidahuang has also invested in overseas farming in the countries of Cuba, Russia and Venezuela.
Other state-owned companies, including the largest state grain trader, COFCO Ltd, have also been increasing overseas investments.
COFCO’s chairman Ning Gaoning told Reuters over the weekend that the company was looking for opportunities to invest in Argentina and Brazil as potential areas for grains production and in Australia for sugar production. (Reporting by Niu Shuping and Ken Wills; Editing by Richard Pullin)