Maize cultivation in China – Differences within one country

China has the largest population in the world and feeds one fifth of the world’s population on only 8% of the global cultivated area.¹ Therefore, the role of agriculture is an important factor for the feeding of the whole population. The government focuses especially on the fact that, while 590 million people live in rural areas, 793 million people live in the urban areas of the cities.²

The Chinese government views the modernization of agriculture as a “strategic task” which can support a sustainable economic growth, an increase in income of farming families and the accession of wealth within the population.³

Besides cereal, rice and soy, maize is the biggest field crop with a cultivated area of 36 million hectares.⁴ The maize cultivated area in China is also named as the “maize belt”.⁵ The area can be separated into 31 provinces where the main cultivated area lays in the northeast of the country with 7 provinces amounting to 69% of the maize production.⁶


Agriculture in China is difficult to generalize as different climatic zones, soil conditions and structures separate the country into different areas. For the cultivation of maize the provinces are being split into three regions:

In the northeast maize is being sowed in April/May and harvested in September (Graph 1). The arable land is mostly flat and therefore the degree of mechanization is quite advanced (Graph 2). One crop per year whereas the arable land is cultivated by either maize permanently or in rotation with soy.

In the central region of the Yellow River, (Huáng Hé) maize is being sowed in June but already harvested in September. The farm size is smaller here than in the northeast. Many farmers, however, incorporate as associations. This is why there is a huge potential for the mechanization in the central region. In addition to maize, there is mainly cereal being cultivated within the crop rotation of a year.

The mountain region of the southwest distinguishes itself with a great variety. Sowing takes place between May and June and harvesting in September. The sowing is mostly done manually because machinery cannot be used on the arable land here due to its smaller size. The differences in cultivation become especially visible when looking at the crop rotation:

In the cold mountain region, one crop is being cultivated with two options: either only maize or maize with potato. For the second option, potatoes are being cultivated as catch crop in between the rows of maize because of the limited size of arable land. In the rather hilly region, two crops per year are being cultivated, whereas this can be either maize twice or maize followed by potato, peas and cereal. In the flat region up to three crops per year are being cultivated. Typical crop rotations are: cereal – maize; cereal – maize – rice; maize – catch crop – rice, and cereal – maize – sweet potato.

The maize cultivated areas can also be differentiated by yield. While in the northeast, the yield amounts to 5.9 t/ha, yields in the southwest amount to 4.6 t/ha. The area surrounding the Yellow River in central China amounts to an average amount of 5.6 t/ha9. Due to the different weather and soil conditions, the market consists of over 1,000 varieties. The varieties with different characteristics adapted to every need are being bought by farmers at regional providers.

The 10-year-plan of the Chinese government focuses on increasing the crop variety and enriching the cultivated area with other crops. Therefore, the cultivated area of maize is meant to decrease by 10% until 2020. Instead of maize, soy and cereal should be cultivated increasingly which is also state-subsidized. This poses new future challenges to the farmers who have been familiar with the cultivation of maize for many generations. 

Graph no. 1: Sowing time

Graph no. 2: Sowing technique


Marcel Walla

Key Account Manager & Data Analyst - amis® AgriGlobe®



¹ Bildungsserver,

² Statista,

³ Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz – Länderbericht China

⁴ China National Grain and Oils Information Center

⁵ China Statistics Yearbook 2012

⁶ Bloomberg