Some 20% of the ROK's land area is arable, with about 70% of it sown in grain, rice being the chief crop. In 1965, agriculture (including forestry and fishing) contributed nearly 50% to GNP, but by 2001 only accounted for 4.4%. Double-cropping is common in the southern provinces. Rice production in 2000/01 was 5,290,000 tons. Barley production in 1999 stood at 331,000 tons; potatoes, 562,000 tons; and soybeans, 145,000 tons. Despite increased yields due to mechanization, the use of hybrid seeds, and increased employment of fertilizers, the ROK runs a net deficit in food grains every year. In 2001, imports of cereals, mostly from the United States, amounted to $1,510 million, consisting almost entirely of wheat and corn. Virtual self-sufficiency has been attained in rice production, but at a cost of nearly $2 billion per year in direct producer subsidies. In 2001, the ROK's agricultural trade deficit was $6.67 billion, fifth highest in the world.
Hemp, hops, and tobacco are the leading industrial crops. The ROK was the world's leading producer of chestnuts in 1999. The orchards in the Taegu area are renowned for their apples, the prime fruit crop; output in 1999 was 491,000 tons. Pears, peaches, persimmons, and melons also are grown in abundance. About two-thirds of vegetable production is made up of the mu (a large white radish) and Chinese cabbage, the main ingredients of the year-round staple kimchi, or "Korean pickle."
Until the Korean War, tenant farming was widespread in the ROK. The Land Reform Act of June 1949, interrupted by the war, was implemented in 1953; it limited arable land ownership to three ha (7.4 acres) per household, with all lands in excess of this limit to be purchased by the government for distribution among farmers who had little or no land. By the late 1980s, farms averaged 0.5–1 ha (1.2–2.5 acres). The New Village (Saemaul) Movement, initiated in 1972, plays a major role in raising productivity and modernizing villages and farming practices.