The market for agricultural and forestry products in 2018 was worth under 32 trillion won, an increase over the past two years, but nonetheless lower than the 36 trillion South Korean won in 2014. In contrast, the livestock products’ market was worth over 27 trillion South Korean won, up from 20 trillion South Korean won in 2013. The fish products’ market was worth over eleven trillion South Korean won – an increase from eight trillion South Korean won in 2013. Imports of agricultural and forest products in 2018 amounted to almost 5.3 billion U.S. dollars – 600 billion more than exports. As of 2017, only 38 percent of the grains, meats, vegetables, and fruits consumed by Koreans came from domestic sources. The other 62 percent were imports.
A major reason why the agriculture industry is having trouble in recent years is because eating habits have changed in Korea. According to a government study of 10,000 Koreans in 2017, consumption of grains dropped over the past decade, while meat consumption increased by almost 40 percent. Additionally, Koreans are eating out more than before, purchasing quick meals at convenience stores and skipping breakfast more often. Meanwhile, imported fruits such as bananas and oranges are being preferred over domestically sourced fruits such as apples, pears and tangerines.
Furthermore, traditional farming as an occupation was previously rejected by younger generations, who preferred higher paying and less physically intense positions within companies or public services. In many cases, farmers are older citizens who rely on government loans and subsidies. Almost half of Korean farmers are 65 years old or older. However, the negative views on agricultural jobs have started to change in recent years, with renewed interest in agriculture among youths. This interest is especially prevalent in the development of so-called “smart” farming and other changes. Smart farming is defined as applying cutting-edge technologies for the efficient remote management, automation, and mass-production of traditional farming.