Overview Vegetable Horticulture in South Korea

During the second edition of the Business Week Taiwan and South-Korea, the agricultural department of the embassy of the Netherlands in Seoul, together with the agricultural section of the Netherlands Office in Taipei and RVO organized an agricultural session. The session focused on chances in both countries in the field of agri-tech and cold chain logistics. During the session, a lot of questions on facts and figures on the Korean vegetable sector were asked by participants. This article gives an overview of the  South Korean vegetable sector.

Beeld: ©SEO-LNV


South-Korea is the 12th largest economy in the World, strong in IT, automobiles, semiconductors, shipbuilding and mobile phone. The South- Korean population is more than 51 million, and the land size is 2.5 times bigger than the Netherlands.


The total size of farmland in Korea is around 1.6 million ha, and similar to the  Netherlands (total 1.8 million ha.) Korean farms are small, with little  income, earning 60% of Korean urban income. The average land size per farm in South Korea is around 1.6 ha, whereas in the Netherlands is around 34 ha. The average age of Korean farmers is high, with an average of 66 years old. Agrifood in South-Korea accounts for only 2% of GDP and 1.5% of total export. On the other hand, South-Korea is increasingly active in importation of agrifood products, accounting for 7.7% of total import.


In 2019, the total vegetable area was around 314 thousand ha. 253 thousand ha were open field areas, and 61 thousand ha were greenhouses. Except for around 400 ha glasshouses, most of greenhouses were plastic greenhouses with basic irrigation systems. Glasshouses with climate control and nutrition system have been built by Dutch greenhouse builders since 1990s. The glasshouse area is continuously growing in South Korea.

The total production of vegetables was around 9.2 million ton in 2019. The largest vegetable crop was Chinese cabbage, followed by onion, radish, potato, water melon, green onion, tomato, sweet potato, cabbage, cucumber, pumpkin, garlic, strawberry, peppers, and melon.

As for greenhouse vegetables, the largest one was melon (Korean variety), followed by tomato, cucumber, peppers, melon and pumpkin. Most of greenhouse vegetables were produced in plastic greenhouses. Glasshouses mostly raised paprika or tomato.

Vegetable in greenhouse
Beeld: ©SEO-LNV

Trade Vegetable

The self-sufficiency rate of agrifood in South-Korea as a whole is around 49%. Compared to that, the self-sufficiency rate of vegetable is relatively high with around 83%. This is because of Korean food culture, preferring fresh vegetables for side dishes or BBQ. Total import value of vegetables in 2020 was USD 693 million. Due to difficulty in keeping freshness during international transportation, many vegetables were imported into South-Korea as frozen (38%) or dried (12%) products. China was the largest exporter of vegetables into South-Korea, followed by Vietnam, US, Thailand and New Zealand. The Netherlands is increasingly exporting dried vegetables into South-Korea, with a total exporting value of USD 701,000 in 2020. Under the Korean phytosanitary regulations, the Netherlands is not allowed to export Solanaceae vegetables such as peppers (including paprika), tomato and potato into South-Korea. Only Brassicaceae vegetables such as cabbage and radish are permitted to export into South-Korea.

In 2020, South-Korea imported USD 15.5 million (31,000 ton) of potatoes  from US and Australia. Only US, Australia and New Zealand made bilateral agreements for the export of potatoes into South-Korea.

South-Korea’s total export value of vegetables in 2020 was USD 205 million. Paprika was the largest crop, accounting for 42% of the total export value, followed by oyster mushroom, Enoki mushroom, Chinese cabbage and tomato. Japan was the largest export destination, accounting for 51% of the export, followed by  US, Taiwan and the Netherlands. The Netherlands imported USD 9.8 million of vegetables from South Korea, mainly Oyster mushroom (84%) and Enoki mushroom (12%).  As for Paprika, 99.7% of total export went to Japan. Korean paprika gained 83% of the market share of imported paprika in the Japanese market. In 2019, South-Korea and China agreed on import requirements for the export of paprika into China, and exported paprika into China in August 2020 for the first time. Korea is currently trying to open the Vietnamese market.