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Agriculture, Food and Oilseed Crops

Kaoliang, tung tree, Chinese agriculture, Hainan Island, Loess Plateau

About three-quarters of China's cultivated area is devoted to food crops. China is the world's largest rice producer, and rice is the country's most important crop, raised on 26 percent of the cultivated land. Most rice is grown south of the Huai River, notably in the middle and lower Yangtze Valley, in the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta, and also in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces.

Wheat is China’s second most important food crop. Wheat is grown in most parts of the country, but the largest growing areas are on the Huabei Pingyuan, in the valleys of the Wei and Fen rivers on the Huangtu Gaoyuan (Loess Plateau), and in Jiangsu, Hubei, and Sichuan provinces. Although the area of wheat cultivation is nearly as large as that of rice (24 percent of cultivated land), the yield is lower.

Corn (maize) occupies 19 percent of the country's cultivated area, mainly in northern, northeastern, and southwestern China. It is increasingly used as animal feed and less is taken for direct human consumption. Kaoliang (a sorghum) and millet are important food crops in North and Northeast China. Kaoliang is also used as an animal feed and converted into alcohol for a beverage; the stalks are use to make paper and as a roofing material. Oats are important chiefly in Inner Mongolia and in the west, notably in Tibet.

Other food crops include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and various other fruits and vegetables. Sweet potatoes predominate in the south and white potatoes in the north. Fruit includes tropical varieties such as pineapples and bananas, grown on Hainan Island; apples and pears, grown in the northern provinces of Liaoning and Shandong; and citrus fruits, particularly oranges and tangerines, which are major products of South China.

Oilseeds play a major role in Chinese agriculture, supplying edible and industrial oils as well as other food products, and constituting an important share of exports. The most important oilseed is the soybean, which is grown mainly in North and Northeast China. Chinese soybeans are particularly good for making tofu (bean curd), and the oil made from soybeans is used in cooking. China is one of the world’s leading soybean producers and is also a leading producer of peanuts, which are grown in Shandong and Hebei provinces. Other important oilseed crops are sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and rapeseed. The seeds from the fruit of the tung tree also provide a valuable oil, which is used as an additive in paints and varnishes. More than half the tung oil produced in China originates in Sichuan.

Tea is a traditional export crop of China, and the country produces more than 20 percent of the world supply. Green and jasmine teas are very popular among the Chinese population, whereas black tea is mostly for export. The principal tea plantations are on the hillsides of the middle Yangtze Valley and in the southeastern provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang.

China obtains sugar both from sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugarcane is grown mainly in the provinces of Guangdong and Sichuan. Sugar beets, a relatively new crop for the country, are raised in Heilongjiang Province and on irrigated land in Inner Mongolia.

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