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In the mid-1980s China's farmers annually planted crops on
about 145 million hectares of land. Eighty percent of the land was
sown with grain, 5 percent with oilseed crops, 5 percent with
fruits, 3 percent with vegetables, 2 percent with fiber crops, and
0.5 percent with sugar crops and tobacco. Other crops made up the
remaining 4 percent. In the 1960s and 1970s, when policies
emphasized grain output, the area sown with grain exceeded 85
percent. After the reforms were launched in the early 1980s, the
area sown with grain fell below 80 percent and the area sown with
other crops expanded correspondingly.
Grain is China's most important agricultural product. It is the
source of most of the calories and protein in the average diet and
accounts for a sizable proportion of the value of agricultural
production. China's statisticians define grain to include wheat,
rice, corn, sorghum, millet, potatoes (at one-fifth their fresh
weight), soybeans, barley, oats, buckwheat, field peas, and beans.
Grain output paralleled the increase in population from 1949
through 1975 but rose rapidly in the decade between 1975 and 1985
table 13, Appendix A).
In 1987 China was the world's largest producer of rice, and the
crop made up a little less than half of the country's total grain
output. In a given year total rice output came from four different
crops. The early rice crop grows primarily in provinces along the
Chang Jiang and in provinces in the south; it is planted in
February to April and harvested in June and July and contributes
about 34 percent to total rice output. Intermediate and single-crop
late rice grows in the southwest and along the Chang Jiang; it is
planted in March to June and harvested in October and November and
also contributed about 34 percent to total rice output in the
1980s. Double-crop late rice, planted after the early crop is
reaped, is harvested in October to November and adds about 25
percent to total rice production. Rice grown in the north is
planted from April to June and harvested from September to October;
it contributes about 7 percent to total production.
All rice cultivation is highly labor intensive. Rice is
generally grown as a wetland crop in fields flooded to supply water
during the growing season. Transplanting seedlings requires many
hours of labor, as does harvesting. Mechanization of rice
cultivation is only minimally advanced. Rice cultivation also
demands more of other inputs, such as fertilizer, than most other
Rice is highly prized by consumers as a food grain, especially
in south China, and per capita consumption has risen through the
years. Also, as incomes have risen, consumers have preferred to eat
more rice and less potatoes, corn, sorghum, and millet. Large
production increases in the early 1980s and poor local
transportation systems combined to induce farmers to feed large
quantities of lower quality rice to livestock.
In 1987 China ranked third in the world as a producer of wheat.
Winter wheat, which in the same year accounted for about 88 percent
of total national output, is grown primarily in the Chang Jiang
Valley and on the North China Plain. The crop is sown each fall
from September through November and is harvested in May and June
the subsequent year. Spring wheat is planted each spring in the
north and northeast and is harvested in late summer. Spring wheat
contributes about 12 percent of total wheat output.
Wheat is the staple food grain in north China and is eaten in
the form of steamed bread and noodles. Per capita consumption has
risen, and the demand for wheat flour has increased as incomes have
risen. Wheat has been by far the most important imported grain.
Corn is grown in most parts of the country but is most common
in areas that also produce wheat. Corn production has increased
substantially over time and in some years has been second only to
production of rice. Consumers have traditionally considered corn
less desirable for human use than rice or wheat. Nevertheless, it
frequently yields more per unit of land than other varieties of
grain, making it useful for maintaining subsistence. As incomes
rose in the early 1980s, consumer demand for corn as a food grain
decreased, and increasing quantities of corn were allocated for
Millet and sorghum are raised in the northern provinces,
primarily in areas affected by drought. Millet is used primarily as
a food grain. Sorghum is not a preferred food grain and in the
1980s was used for livestock feed and maotai, a potent
Both Irish and sweet potatoes are grown in China. In the 1980s
about 20 percent of output came from Irish potatoes grown mostly in
the northern part of the country. The remaining 80 percent of
output came primarily from sweet potatoes grown in central and
south China (cassava output was also included in total potato
production). Potatoes are generally considered to be a somewhat
lower-quality food grain. Per capita consumption has declined
through time. Potatoes are also used in the production of vodka and
as a livestock feed.
Other grains, such as field peas, beans, and pulses, are grown
throughout China. These grains are good sources of plant protein
and add variety to the diet. Barley is a major grain produced in
the lower Chang Jiang Basin. It is used for direct human
consumption, livestock feed, and increasingly is in great demand as
a feedstock to produce beer.
Soybeans, a leguminous crop, are also included in China's grain
statistics. The northeast has traditionally been the most important
producing area, but substantial amounts of soybeans are also
produced on the North China Plain. Production of soybeans declined
after the Great Leap Forward, and output did not regain the
10-million-ton level of the late 1950s until 1985. Population
growth has greatly outstripped soybean output, and per capita
consumption has fallen. Soybeans are a useful source of protein and
fat, an important consideration given the limited amount of meat
available and the grain- and vegetable-based diet. Oilseed cakes,
by-products of soybean oil extraction, are used as animal feed and
Cotton is China's most important fiber crop. The crop is grown
on the North China Plain and in the middle and lower reaches of the
Chang Jiang Valley. In the 1970s domestic output did not meet
demand, and significant quantities of raw cotton were imported.
Production expanded dramatically in the early 1980s to reach a
record 6 million tons in 1984. Although production declined to 4.2
million tons in 1985, China was still by far the largest cotton
producer in the world. In the 1980s raw cotton imports ceased, and
China became a major exporter of cotton.
Significant quantities of jute and hemp are also produced in
China. Production of these crops expanded from 257,000 tons in 1955
to 3.4 million tons in 1985. Major producing provinces include
Heilongjiang and Henan and also provinces along the Chang Jiang.
China is an important producer of oilseeds, including peanuts,
rapeseed, sesame seed, sunflower seed, and safflower seed. Oilseed
output in 1955 was 4.8 million tons. Output, however, did not
expand between 1955 and 1975, which meant per capita oilseed
availability decreased substantially because of population growth.
Production from 1975 to 1985 more than tripled, to 15.5 million
tons, but China continues to have one of the world's lowest levels
of per capita consumption of oilseeds.
Sugarcane accounted for about 83 percent of total output of
sugar crops in 1985. Major producing provinces include Guangdong,
Fujian, and Yunnan provinces and Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Production has grown steadily through the years from about 8
million tons in 1955 to over 51 million tons in 1985.
Sugar beet production accounted for the remaining 17 percent of
total output in 1985. Major producing provinces and autonomous
regions include Heilongjiang, Jilin, Nei Monggol, and Xinjiang.
Sugar beet production rose from 1.6 million tons in 1955 to 8.9
million tons in 1985. Despite these impressive increases in output,
per capita consumption was still very low, and large quantities
were imported. China is the world's largest producer of leaf
tobacco. Farmers produce many kinds of tobacco, but flue-cured
varieties often make up more than 80 percent of total output. Major
producing areas include Henan, Shandong, Sichuan, Guizhou, and
Tea and silk, produced mainly in the south, have traditionally
been important commercial crops. The domestic market for these
products has been substantial, and they continue to be important
Given China's different agricultural climatic regions, many
varieties of vegetables are grown. Farmers raise vegetables in
private plots for their own consumption. Near towns and cities,
farmers grow vegetables for sale to meet the demand of urban
consumers. Vegetables are an important source of vitamins and
minerals in the diet.
Temperate, subtropical, and tropical fruits are cultivated in
China. Output expanded from 2.6 million tons in 1955 to more than
11 million tons in 1985. Reforms in the early 1980s encouraged
farmers to plant orchards, and the output of apples, pears,
bananas, and citrus fruit was expected to expand in the late 1980s.
Data as of July 1987