23 September 2017

China comprises four key economic zones centred around Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong Kong. Marcus Oldham conducts 2 China tours; the 3rd year Farm students go to Beijing and Shanghai, while the Agribusiness 1st years go to Chengdu and Hong Kong.

Des Umbers and Cleo Gower led this year’s Agribusiness tour, now in its 14th year. The group had 10 female, and 24 male students. As always, the tour is a solid mix of fun and learning.

The key aim of the tour is to return home with a solid understanding of the products we need to produce for sale to China, the sheer size of the China market and the unique supply chain issues. A student noted ‘We hear stories and might have even spoken to someone that has been there or that trades with China, but it’s not until you arrive and see for yourself that you fully understand’.

The key theme is food distribution channels. We visit markets, ranging from supermarkets owned by international chains such as METRO through to local street markets. Here we can see varying degrees of food quality. METRO have their meat cryo-vacced and chilled, in a display case just as you would expect to see in Australia. We often see our own products there, such as Mort meats, owned by current student Alice Mort’s family. METRO also stock most items you would expect in a normal Australian wholesale supermarket such as Costco or the like. But students wondered why METRO also had a fish tank with live fish. The manager demonstrated how a customer chooses their fish which is then taken out of the tank using a net. This is an example of the supermarket keeping some old traditional means of selling, to satisfy its client base.

The next day we visited a local street market commonly referred to as a wet market. Here food is displayed unrefrigerated and in less than sterile conditions. Nearby was a wholesale wet market with meat marked as being Australian but of dubious origins.

From these three visits alone, students gain a strong understanding of local attitudes to meat storage and a realization that unless strictly monitored, a cold chain established in China may not be maintained to Australian expectations as locals might assume a different level of standards.

We noticed throughout the tour, a lack of refrigeration (warm beer is common), a lack of dairy (fresh milk is scarce) and a lack of large cuts of meat. The lecturers made the point that this is typical of not only China but many other countries such as India and Africa with huge populations, indicating that 2/3 of the world live and eat this way, presenting challenges and opportunities for us food producers in western countries.

We also meet some large Agribusinesses. In Chengdu, we were hosted by West Hope Group (TEQU), Sichuan province’s biggest animal feed producer. TEQU’s owner is a billionaire who started out with $200 to develop the business in 1985.  The meeting and tour at TEQU were conducted at the corporate level and included our students presenting a snapshot of Australian agriculture to the TEQU managers.

Here we witnessed TEQU’s commitment to OH&S and quality including the adoption of the internationally recognized ISO 9001 accreditation. We also experienced a very formally structured business meeting between us Australian representatives and the local Chinese management.

We visited many and varied places such as a tea plantation where tea demands a high price of over $60,000/kg USD due to the use of Panda poo as a fertilizer and some extremely good marketing by the owner. Then a Baijiu factory, where Australian Sorghum is distilled into the nationally famous Baijiu, a powerful clear alcohol spirit rated at 50% proof which is used to toast guest at business dinners.

The tour included a visit to a huge Cotton Mill where high-quality shirts are made from Aussie cotton. We heard from the Australian Consulate General in Chengdu how Australia is highly regarded by Chinese consumers as a safe food supplier, auguring well for the future of Australian Agriculture as long as we maintain our clean and green outlook. Many other visits reinforced that same message. An educational boat tour of Hong Kong’s freight harbour gave us a firsthand insight into the costs and processes of exporting our food from Australia to Hong Kong and China. We also take fast TGV trains and experience the local road conditions and rules by bus.

Throughout all of this, the sheer amount of work and concrete used across the country is staggering. Everywhere, new superhighways, fast trains, high rise buildings and factories are being built on what was once highly productive farmland. It is said that China uses 50% of the world’s production of concrete.

After hours, we had a lot of fun with the locals. From a Tibetan Restaurant Yak feast, through to Pandas, and staying the night in a remote tourist village set amongst Rice Terraces.

The tour finished in Hong Kong with a night tour of spectacular Victoria Harbour with invited local agribusiness guests and some BBQ Aussie steaks.