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China Table of Contents



China's farmers have long used techniques such as fertilization and irrigation to increase the productivity of their scarce land. Over time, many farming techniques have been modernized: chemical fertilizers have supplemented organic fertilizers, and mechanical pumps have come into use in irrigation. Government planners in the 1980s emphasized increased use of fertilizer, improved irrigation, mechanization of agriculture, and extension of improved seed varieties as leading features of the agricultural modernization program.

Cropping Patterns

All of these elements of modern agriculture are used in the context of the traditional intensive cropping patterns. To maximize year-round use of the land, two or more crops are planted each year where possible. Rice, wheat, cotton, vegetable, and other crop seedlings are sometimes raised in special seedbeds and then transplanted to fields. Transplanting shortens the time required for a crop to mature, which allows farmers the opportunity to squeeze in an additional crop each growing season. Another method to make optimum use of scarce land is to plant seedlings in a mature stand of another crop. For example, when planting winter wheat in October, farmers in the north leave spaces among the rows so that cotton seedlings can be planted or transplanted in April and May. Without intercropping, farmers could raise only one crop a year. Mechanization supports this intensive cropping pattern. Despite a huge rural labor force, labor shortages occur each season when farmers are required to harvest one crop and plant another in its place, all within the space of a few weeks. In the 1980s farmers invested in harvesting and planting machinery to overcome the shortage of labor. Seed breeders also supported intensive cropping patterns by selecting and breeding varieties that had shorter growing seasons.

Data as of July 1987