How to Develop Grass-based Livestock Husbandry in Areas of Low- and Middle-yield Fields

GAO Shuqin 1 WANG Hongsheng2 DUAN Rui2 JING Haichun1,3 FANG Jingyun1,3

(1.Engineering Laboratory for Grass-based Livestock Husbandry, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100093)
(2.Bureau of Sciences & Technology for Development, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100864)
(3.University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100049)

【Abstract】With increasing awareness of balanced and healthy diet, the demand for ruminant products has been drastically increasing in China over the past decades. Grass-based Livestock Husbandry (GLiH), a new paradigm for agricultural restructuring and sustainable development, is highly encouraged to meet such demand. Yet, the country’s own production cannot support the demand, as envisaged by the soaring import of both red meat and forage products, albeit half of the nation’s cereal production is devoted to animal feed and forage crop production area amounts to 12 million hectares. With the abundant population and limited arable land, China is facing challenge to explore possible land areas for GLiH development. We argue that one of the effective ways is to transform the low- and middle-yield fields, which account for over 70% of the cultivated lands, for forage crop production. Our analysis indicated that cultivation of forage crops could avoid the risks of low yield and low economic returns frequently occurring for cereal production on such lands. Furthermore, a forage–cereal rotation cropping system can significantly increase dry mass production, reduce the incidence of pest and disease damage, and ameliorate soil physical and chemical properties by improving soil organic matter and soil fertility and reducing salt and alkali constraints. Three scenarios have been projected for the potential of the exploitation of low- and middle-yield land for livestock production, and the amount of the red meat production is estimated to be 17.98, 21.58, and 26.98 million tons, respectively, which are 1.6, 1.9, and 2.4 times of the current production nationwide. A case study for Shandong Province is further presented, demonstrating that exploring the saline-alkali land at the Yellow River Delta for forage crop production could substantially alleviate the shortage of forage supplies and optimize the agricultural infrastructure of the province.

【Keywords】 Grass-based Livestock Husbandry (GLiH); low- and middle-yield land; saline-alkali land; the Yellow River Delta;


【Funds】 Science and Technology Service Network Initiative (STS) (KFJ-STS-ZDTP-049) Projects of Poverty Alleviation by Science and Technology, CAS (KFJ-FP-201804)

Download this article

(Translated by XU XY)


    [1]. (1) Data source: China Statistical Yearbook. [^Back]

    [2]. (2) One unit of sheep is defined as an adult ewe weighing 50 kg and consuming 1.8 kg standard hay per day; a cow/cattle is evaluated as 5 sheep units. [^Back]


    1 Ren J Z, Li F D, Cao J M, et al. Development status, challenges, and solutions of China’s beef and mutton industry. Strategic Study of CAE, 2019, 21 (5): 67–73 (in Chinese).

    2 Fang J Y, Jing H C, Zhang W H. 迎接草牧业成为我国现代农业半壁江山的时代. Chinese Science Bulletin, 2018, 63 (17): 1615–1618 (in Chinese).

    3 Su D X, Meng Y D, Wu B G. Calculation of proper carrying capacity of rangelands. Agricultural Industry Criteria (NY/T 635–2002). 2003-03-01 (in Chinese).

    4 Zhou D W, Zhang P Y, Sun H X, et al. Regional difference of grain production and its consumed fraction in China. Soils and Crops, 2017, 6(3): 161–173 (in Chinese).

    5 Fang J Y. 我国草原牧区呼唤新的草业发展模式. Chinese Science Bulletin, 2016, 61 (2): 137–138 (in Chinese).

    6 Li X L, Shen Y Y, Wan L Q. Potential analysis and policy recommendations for restructuring the crop farming and developing forage industry in China. Strategic Study of CAE, 2016, 18 (1): 94–105 (in Chinese).

    7 Zhang L, Zhang F R, Jiang G H, et al. Potential improvement of mediumlow yielded farmland and guarantee of food safety in China. Research of Agricultural Modernization, 2005, 26 (1): 22–25 (in Chinese).

    8 Yun X J. Theoretical basis and practical significance of vegetative agriculture. Acta Prataculturae Sinica, 2002, 11 (1): 65–69 (in Chinese).

    9 National Animal Husbandry Station. 中国草业统计 2017. Beijing: China Agriculture Press, 2018 (in Chinese).

    10 Nan Z B. 中国农区草业与食物安全研究. Beijing: Science Press, 2017 (in Chinese).

    11 Wei J, Cao Z H, Luo C G. 草田轮作在发展西藏生态农业中的作用及建议. Heilongjiang Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, 2007, (9): 98–100 (in Chinese).

    12 Zhang Y, Luo S W, Wang B L. 紫花苜蓿改良盐碱地效果研究. Modern Agricultural Science and Technology, 2009, (20): 121, 125 (in Chinese).

    13 Wang L Y, Pan J, Xiao H, et al. Effect of soluble salt on planting salt-tolerant plants of coastal saline soil. Acta Agriculturae Boreali-Sinica, 2014, 29 (5): 226–231 (in Chinese).

    14 Yang Y H, Jiang P A, Erkin, et al. Effects of planting Medicago sativa L. on soil fertility. Arid Land Geography, 2005, (2): 248–251 (in Chinese).

    15 Geng H Z, Wu Y F, Cao Z Z. Alfalfa in China. Beijing: China Agriculture Press, 1995 (in Chinese).

    16 Huang G Q, Xiong Y M, Qian H Y, et al. Ecological analysis of crop rotation systems in paddy field. Acta Pedologica Sinica, 2006, (1): 69–78 (in Chinese).

    17 Hu F C. Initial research report on soil fertility improvement by planting Medicago sativa. Pratacultural Science, 2005, (8): 47–49 (in Chinese).

    18 Qin J H, Lu B, Zhao Y C. Solonchak resources and soil building effect of salt-tolerant forage grasses. Soils, 2004, (1): 71–75 (in Chinese).

    19 Ding H R, Hong L Z, Yang Z Q, et al. 盐碱地及其生物措施改良研究现状. Modern Agricultural Science and Technology, 2010, (6): 299–300, 308 (in Chinese).

    20 Wen Y C, Kong S H, Zhao T K, et al. Screening of salt-tolerant herbage and economic crops in saline-alkali areas of the Yellow River Delta. Shandong Agricultural Sciences, 2019, 51 (5): 42–46 (in Chinese).

    21 Song J R, Yang J, Wang Y M, et al. Exploration of the reason and improvement measures of saline-alkali soil in the Yellow River Delta. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences, 2017, 45 (27): 95–97, 234 (in Chinese).

    22 National Bureau of Statistics. China Statistical Yearbook 2019. Beijing: China Statistics Press, 2019 (in Chinese).

    23 Zhao K F, Li F Z, Fan S J, et al. Halophytes in China. Chinese Bulletin of Botany, 1999, 16( 3): 201–207 (in Chinese).

This Article


CN: 11-1806/N

Vol 35, No. 02, Pages 166-174

February 2020


Article Outline


  • 1 The demand for ruminant products in China keeps growing
  • 2 Developmental potential of GLiH in low- and middle-yield fields in China
  • 3 The ecological effects of developing GLiH in low- and middle-yield fields in China
  • 4 Potential of GLiH development in the Yellow River Delta
  • 5 Suggestions for the development of GLiH in low- and middle-yield fields in China
  • Footnote