About 24% of the land is under cultivation. Although still important as both an export earner and a domestic food source, agriculture has fallen far from the preeminent position it long held in the Taiwan economy. From 1973 to 1987, the crop production growth rate increased on average only 0.1% per year. In 2001, agriculture accounted for 2% of GDP. About 8% of the labor force was employed in agriculture. High production costs and low return have driven much of the agricultural work force away to industry. In 1997, there were some 780,000 farm households, down from 822,395 in 1993. Part-time farming households have accounted for over 80% of all farming households since 1980.
Rice, the principal food crop, is grown along the western plain and in the south. In 2001, paddy rice production was 1,723,895 tons; brown rice, 1,396,274 tons. Taiwan's annual rice production exceeds demand; the island's per capita rice consumption has declined by over 50% since the mid-1970s due to changing diet preferences. Other food crops include sweet potatoes, bananas, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat. Sugar, pineapples, citrus fruits, crude tea, and asparagus are plantation-grown and are the principal cash and export crops. Small amounts of Taiwan's world-famous oolong tea, cotton, tobacco, jute, and sisal are also produced. A fast-rising industry, mushroom canning, led to the development of mushroom cultivation, a specialty crop well suited to Taiwan since it is labor-intensive and requires little space and small investment. Betel nuts have become Taiwan's second most valuable cash crop after rice. In 2001, betel nut production totaled 165,076 tons.
Generally, Taiwanese agriculture is characterized by high yields, irrigation, terracing, multiple cropping, intertillage, and extensive use of fertilizers. Farms are small, averaging 1.1 hectares (2.7 acres) of cultivable land per farm family. Mechanization, once confined largely to sugarcane and rice production, is increasing rapidly as a result of government subsidies and other incentives. Since there is an oversupply of rice, the government has encouraged farmers to grow soybeans, wheat, and corn, which are more profitable. The growing scarcity of land on Taiwan is causing serious disagreements over land resources between agricultural, industrial, and housing interests.