More than 50 million call South Korea their home. Since the 1960s, there has been an emphasis within the country to transform from an agrarian culture to one that is focused on industrialization and trade. Because of this, the contribution of the South Korean agricultural industry has dropped from 25% of total GDP to just 3% in 2005.
Because there is limited land space for agricultural work, new farmers are not coming into the industry. The youth who come from farm families are migrating to the cities, which means the average age of employment for the sector continues to rise. In 1970, just 8% of farmers in South Korea were above the age of 60. Today, that figure has reached 39%.
Even with the government passing policies to encourage the expansion of land ownership by farm households, the industry has seen decreases in the number of farms and the number of people interested in working as a farmer. This has led the industry to rely on imports as a way to supplement the food supply for the population, with the U.S. being the primary beneficiary of this need.
Interesting South Korea Agriculture Industry Statistics
#1. With just 0.353 square kilometers of agricultural land for every 1,000 square kilometers, South Korea ranks 195th in the world, from 2011 figures in the amount of agricultural land that is available to a country. (Nation Master)
#2. There are currently 1.64 million hectares of arable land available to the South Korea Agriculture industry, which ranks the country at 128th in the world for the amount that is available. (Nation Master)
#3. For agricultural machinery, there are currently 4.4 tractors for every 1,000 people in South Korea, which ranks the country 51st in the world for machinery availability. (Nation Master)
#4. South Korea is the 5th-largest export market for the United States agricultural sector, providing $6.4 billion in revenues to supplement domestic supplies each year. (Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development)
#5. U.S. agricultural products represent 20% of market sales that occur in South Korea. (Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development)
#6. The current food sufficient rate, based on grain, in South Korea is 23%. About 500,000 farmers are leaving the work force every year, which is putting even more strain on that figure. Even when all foods are included, the self-sufficiency rate in South Korea is just 52%. (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO])
#7. About 80 of the 265 local governments which exist in South Korea are on the verge of extinction because of the shift toward living in urban or suburban communities instead of rural communities. (FAO)
#8. There are about 2,000 small holders participating in a regional food localization strategy called “Local Food Project #1.” Wanju local food-related sales have increased from 78M in 2012 to 580M in 2017. (FAO)
#9. The total production of soybeans and barley in South Korea were 216,000 tons and 1.1 million tons respectively in 1980. Since then, production rates of these crops have fallen by 20%. (OECD)
#10. In 2005, the production of wheat in South Korea was just 7,000 tons, while corn production was 73,000 tons. The value of barley in the country was just 3% of the value of rice. (OECD)
#11. Irrigation and livestock account for 62% of the water withdrawals that are experienced in South Korea each year. In comparison, just 26% of the water withdrawals come from municipalities. (FAO)
#12. The last verifiable count of livestock in South Korea occurred in 1988. During that count, there were about 2 million native Korean cattle, 4.9 million hogs, and 59 million poultry as part of the agriculture industry. (Country Studies)
#13. About two-thirds of farmers are renting at least some of their land to grow crops. In 1980, only one-third of farmers were using this practice. (Country Studies0
#14. Small plots of land used in the farming sector in South Korea only meet about 60% of the expenses farmers face each year, which is why rental land is used to augment incomes. (Country Studies)
#15. Although farmers have seen a 35% increase in their total assets since the 1980s, over 40% of those increases are directly attributed to an increase in the price of land that they own. (Country Studies)
South Korea Agriculture Industry Trends and Analysis
Agriculture in South Korea continues to be characterized by small farms. In 2005, the average area farmed per household was about 50% higher than it was in 1970. Although that growth is important, the average farm size is just 1.4 hectares. About 60% of the farms in South Korea are less than 1 hectare in size, while just 7% are farming on more than 3 hectares.
Most South Korean farms are mixed, general farms, but there has been an increase in greenhouse vegetable and livestock specialization. The issue is the direct correlation between a rapid increase in the industrial labor force, which is taking away the population available for the rural farming labor force.
In 2005, the farm population was just 7.1% of the total population in South Korea and less than one-quarter of what it was in 1970. Steep drops continue each year as more youth leave the industry, even though the aging workforce has been able to increase farm production by 1.7 times between 1980-2005.
There must be a continued emphasis on supporting the agricultural industry if it is going to survive. The government must also continue supporting specialization within the industry instead of mixed farming, since 25% of the production is still dedicated to rice. In the next 5 years, expect imports to supplement the domestic supply as farmers look for ways to continue production.
Even then, with an aging workforce, more youth must come into the agricultural industry. If they do not, this industry is one generation away from becoming completely irrelevant.