As spring plowing comes to an end in China, Wei Shilian is expecting a good harvest.
A resident of Xingan County, a big rice production area in east China's Jiangxi Province, Wei planted more than 140 hectares of paddy rice this year, 90 percent of which is high-quality rice. Jiangxi is one of China's 13 major grain production bases.
"Market demand is changing, and it's hard to make money by growing regular rice these days," Wei said.
Chinese farmers traditionally pursue quantity over quality when it comes to grain. But as incomes improve, consumers have become more demanding about quality. Meanwhile, prices of imported rice remain low, challenging China's cheap mid- and low-quality rice.
The central government announced in February that high-quality paddy rice should be a priority in agricultural production this year. Compared to regular paddy rice, high-quality rice is brighter in color and better in texture, and some types have a distinctive aroma.
Under these circumstances, government authorities with several big rice production bases have recently announced plans to cultivate a high volume of high-quality rice.
Hunan province, for example, plans to produce about 666,667 hectares of high-quality rice this year, while Chongqing hopes to produce 300,000 hectares of such rice. Sichuan plans to extend its high-quality rice area to more than 1 million hectares this year.
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Ling Jihe is a renowned rice grower in Jiangxi Province. He opened a "High-quality Rice Experience Store" at the end of last year.
"Rice demand is changing in the market," Ling said. "In the past, people cared more about eating sufficient food, but now they care more about eating great food."
In his store, high-quality rice sells for 3 yuan (43.5 cents) per kilo, much higher than regular rice in the market, but the product is still "very popular." According to Ling, revenue from high-quality rice in the store reached a staggering 180,000 yuan in less than 20 days.
Xiong Xijian, who owns a rice processing factory in Jiangxi, said that the amount of regular rice sold to the southern Guangdong Province decreased by 60 percent compared to three years ago, while that of high-quality rice is increasing at an annual rate of 15 percent.
"There is basically no profit in growing regular rice, so you have to adjust the structure of your crops," said Yi Zhanghai, a farmer in Jiangxi's Jishui County.
Li Changsheng, an official in charge of agriculture in Jishui, said that agricultural reform is about placing more emphasis on quality over quantity.
"We will churn out about 10,000 hectares of high-quality rice this year, or about a quarter of all rice cultivation in the county," Li said.
In Jiangxi's Nanchang County, one of China's top 100 "Super Food Production Bases," farmer Luo Fuyu has switched from regular rice to a high-quality rice breed called "926," which has a lower yield but can fetch much higher prices in the market. One mu (one hectare equals 15 mu) of the rice breed can guarantee at least 300 yuan more than one mu of regular rice, he said.
"We will definitely pay more attention to rice quality than quantity in the future," Luo said.