China is the world's largest producer of rice, and the crop makes up a little less than half of the country's total grain output. China accounts for 26% of all world rice production. In a given year total rice output came from four different crops. The early rice crop grows primarily in provinces along the Yangtze River and in provinces in the south; it is planted in February to April and harvested in June and July and contributes about 34 percent to total rice output. Intermediate and single-crop late rice grows in the southwest and along the Yangtze; it is planted in March to June and harvested in October and November and also contributed about 34 percent to total rice output in the 1980s. Double-crop late rice, planted after the early crop is reaped, is harvested in October to November and adds about 25 percent to total rice production. Rice grown in the north is planted from April to June and harvested from September to October; it contributes about 7 percent to total production.
All rice cultivation is highly labor intensive. Rice is generally grown as a wetland crop in fields flooded to supply water during the growing season. Transplanting seedlings requires many hours of labor, as does harvesting. Mechanization of rice cultivation is only minimally advanced. Rice cultivation also demands more of other inputs, such as fertilizer, than most other crops.
Rice is highly prized by consumers as a food grain, especially in south China, and per capita consumption has risen through the years. Also, as incomes have risen, consumers have preferred to eat more rice and less potatoes, corn, sorghum, and millet. Large production increases in the early 1980s and poor local transportation systems combined to induce farmers to feed large quantities of lower quality rice to livestock.