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Agriculture in China
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History of agricultural development in Northeast China

Agricultural development in northeast China has been the highest priority over the past 250 years. For example, land reclamation on the Sanjiang plain started in 1743 when a public granary of 450 hectares was established to provide assistance to the armies. By the end of the 19 th century, grain from northeast China was already out-competing domestically produced grain in the Russian Far East. However, agricultural development was not accelerated until after 1949.

Large-scale land development began in the early 1950s, just after the foundation of the People's Republic of China . In 1954, the Soviet Union provided a grant to China to establish a farm of 20,000 hectares named Friendship Farm in Youyi (Friendship) County in the western part of the Sanjiang Plain. This was the first large mechanized state -owned farm and one of the 177 large projects funded by the Soviet Union in China during the 1950s.

Since the 1950s northeast China 's “Great Northern Wilderness” has become a key grain-producing region and is listed as one of eight national bases for grain production in China . National priorities for agricultural development have been the main force driving conversion of wetland to farmland. During the early stages of development, the great northern wilderness was critical for rebuilding an economy destroyed by civil war. From the 1950s to the mid-1960s the Chinese government issued policies to stimulate agricultural development, including creating the agricultural cooperatives (1953), the Great Leap, and People's Commune (1958). By 1956 Heilongjiang Province had converted over 266,000 hectares of wilderness to farmland.

A second important factor that speeded agricultural development of the Sanjiang Plain in the 1950s was the end of the Korean War. The demobilized armies were sent to the sparsely populated northeast to satisfy the demand for farm workers and implement the policy for development of the agricultural sector.

International aid has made important impacts on development in various ways from the “Friendship Farm” funded by the former Soviet Union to the Japanese funded Honghe Farm to the farms aided by World Bank loans. Even in proposals prepared by local authorities, agricultural development was defined as the primary measure to guarantee national security. However , intensive development has not yielded the anticipated economic benefits. Most large state -owned farms have incurred heavy debts imposed by the international and domestic banks . For example, Honghe Farm, established in the early 1980s with a loan from Nichimen Corporation and formerly considered a model of international cooperation in converting wetlands, has incurred debts amounting to over $12 million. Although this burdensome debt situation is caused by many factors, it suggests that conventional farming on converted wetlands is of questionable profitability based on traditional economic evaluation.


Recent status of agricultural development in North East China

In the late 1990s agricultural crop production entered an “adjustment period” during which the most advantageous crops and methods of cultivation in each region were identified and promoted. For instance, for Heilongjiang Province rice, maize (corn), and soybeans were identified as the most promising crops and their cultivation was assigned top priority. In practice this type of adjustment often led to a decline in the variety of crops cultivated in a given area.

A distinctive regional advantage of northeastern agriculture is its relative “environmental quality.” In comparison with other Chinese provinces fewer synthetic agrochemicals are used in plant cultivation and livestock feeding. The production of “green products” receives serious attention at the level of the provincial government and has received investment from Hong Kong , Japan , and other economically developed areas.

Maize, rice, and wheat are the three main crops, with wheat acreage steadily declining and rice acreage steadily increasing. Table below shows yields from the northeast as a significant share of China 's total grain production. Soybean is also widely cultivated. The range of crops in northeast China is much broader than in adjacent Russia and includes crops such as peanuts and tobacco.

Although agriculture continues to occupy a priority position in overall national development, it is not keeping pace with the growth of other sectors. Annual production of grain declined in 2000-2003. In 2000, with a view to meeting standards imposed by its impending admission to the WTO, China began phasing out procurement prices that guaranteed fixed incomes to grain farmers. Due to this and world market pressures on prices, profitability from grain farming has declined and large grain areas have either been converted to cash-crops or left fallow. China 's production of wheat, corn, rice and other food grain dipped from a record high of 512 million tons in 1998 to 435 million tons in 2003. Grain output reportedly fell by as much as 59 percent in northeast China (Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia) for spring wheat production. As a consequence per capita net income of rural workers in Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Inner Mongolia declined for four consecutive years to around ¥2000 ($250). This compares to over ¥3,500 ($438) in Jiangsu and Guangdong Provinces where farmers focus on cash crops.

Table.Grain production in northeast China compared to China as a whole (NEC includes Liaoning Province, outside the Amur-Heilong basin)




NEC as percent of China total

percent national/national rank

percent national/national rank

(‘000 ha)








8.9 / 6
10.2 / 3


9.5 / 3
9.2 / 4

(‘000 tons)








6.5 / 7
9.6 / 3


12.4 / 2
13.2 / 1

(‘000 ha)








1.2 / 15
5.2 / 10


1.0 / 16
1.5 / 17

(‘000 tons)








1.0 / 16
4.8 / 10


1.1 / 15
2.0 / 16

*NEC = Northeast China
Adopted with adjustments from Karakin and Sheingauz 2004


New Grain Policy

In late 2003 the government of China implemented measures to increase national grain output to 455 million tons by 2004.  This target was surpassed.  In Heilongjiang Province total grain output reached 31.35 million tons in 2004, a yearly increase of 6.23 million tons or 25 percent, eclipsing the record high production of 1997.  In 2004 grain producers were exempt from agricultural tax, received assistance to improve irrigation, received new technology and quality seeds, and even received direct subsidies based on planted area. Jilin Province implemented tax easements recently granted by the National Tax Bureau:
-peasants producing agricultural products were fully exempt from personal income tax;
-low-income peasants paid no added value tax; and
-street merchants in rural areas were not required to be licensed.

Another key measure was a sharp rise in grain prices, which were then controlled by government: average grain prices were increased by 20 percent year-on-year, adding nearly ¥3 billion ($360 million) to farm incomes.  According to provincial authorities the per capita net income of grain farmers reached an unprecedented ¥3,000 Yuan per year ($360).  In 2005, Heilongjiang Province had 9.3 million ha planted to crops, with 87 percent of that in grain.  That acreage produced 36 million tons of grain.  Livestock industry output in the same year was worth ¥46 billion ($6 billion).  Income per rural dweller equaled ¥3,221 ($400).  In addition to the increases in grain production and incomes, an obvious result of the first two years of this new grain policy was increased pressure on natural ecosystems, especially floodplain wetlands.


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Traditional centralized grain storage exists in every large village (Photo by E.Simonov)

Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries



Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Russian agriculture

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland



Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade


Other land-use issues:


Nature tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin

Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Oil & gas impacts

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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