With North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continuing to stress the need to expand wheat and barley cultivation, the country’s collective farms are apparently expanding the acreage dedicated to the crops.

According to a Daily NK source in South Pyongan Province on Sunday, the management committee of a collective farm in Pyongsong recently surveyed sowing acreage per grain type. It found that the acreage where they could raise wheat and barley climbed more than 30% compared to last year. 

Just two years ago, corn and rice accounted for the most acreage at Pyongsong’s collective farms at 58% and 36%, respectively.

This means corn and rice accounted for 94% of the acreage. Some farms also raised barley, soybeans, potatoes and other crops, but few were double-cropping wheat and barley.

Corn accounts for so much acreage in Pyongsong because the city has more sloped fields than flatland where farmers can plant rice.

The source said that in the case of Pyongsong, most wheat and barley cultivation takes place on double-cropped corn fields.

Some double cropping of rice paddies takes place, too, but farm managers usually sow wheat and barley into corn fields out of fear of reducing the production of rice, their major crop.

In a speech before the Supreme People’s Assembly last September, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for increasing nationwide acreage for paddy and upfield rice and doubling the acreage for wheat and barley. He called for conditions that would enable “civilized improvements” to the food situation by boosting harvests and providing the people with white rice and wheat flour.

Collective farms throughout the country have apparently been responding to Kim’s call by setting aside acreage for wheat and barley.

A photo of North Korean farmers watering their fields. / Image: Rodong Sinmun – News 1

Most farms have obligatorily expanded acreage for wheat and barley cultivation. In the case of South Pyongan Province, the collective farms at Hadan, Wolpo, Hutan, and Chongok have reportedly been quite successful in expanding acreage for the two grains.

However, with wheat and barley seeds in short supply, harvests will likely fall short of expectations even with the additional acreage.

Because collective farms began expanding acreage after Kim’s speech before the Supreme People’s Assembly in September, farmers could not sow the additional fields right away in autumn, nor are they likely to sow them according to targets in spring because of seed shortages.

Aware of the situation, North Korean authorities are not only expanding production of seeds but also emphasizing the development of seeds that offer high yields even in double-cropped fields.

In fact, during the recent Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee, Kim Jong Un called for intensive promotion of rice and wheat cultivation by changing the grain production structure. He ordered the promotion of a “seed revolution,” the establishment of scientific farming systems and methods that can deal with disastrously abnormal climate conditions and prompt, scientific, and accurate agricultural weather forecasts.

However, experts say the development and expanded production of seeds requires imported fertilizer, pesticide, and investments of advanced technology from overseas, meaning there are limits to how much North Korea can do on its own.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.