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Prices Soar as Korean Cabbage Supply Runs Short

Posted October. 17, 2005 06:38,   


On October 12, we visited Gochang-gun in north of Jeolla Province and Yeonggwang-gun in south of Jeolla Province, about 300 kilometers south of Seoul. The two areas are well known as Korean cabbage producing districts together with Yeongam-gun in south of Jeolla Province and Dangjin-gun and Hongseong-gun in south of Chungcheong Province.

As expected, Korean cabbages grown there were hard to get. After high lead content in Chinese-made kimchi was disclosed, Korean cabbages have been in short supply.

Jung Jae-wook (45, Gochang-eub, Gochang-gun, North Jeolla Province), a farmer, said, “Wholesale dealers and kimchi producers come here often, and cabbage is in short supply.”

Mostly Sold Speculatively in Lump Sums-

The area of planted cabbage fields this winter in Gochang-gun is around 1,220,000 pyeong, and in Yeonggwang-gun, about 1,150,000 pyeong. Shrewd agents have already bought 90 percent of the cabbages grown in these fields speculatively, in lump sums.

“We usually receive a down payment, with buyers paying the balance after the harvest, if the quality of the cabbage is satisfactory. But they paid in lump sums immediately after the contracts were signed this year.”

Kimchi is like gold-

On the day we visited, the market price of cabbages in Gochang-gun and Yeonggwang-gun stood around 6,000 won per pyeong (eight to 10 heads of cabbage are harvested per pyeong). The market price was about two times higher than usual. Chinese-made kimchi worries made farmers enjoy unexpected profits compared to the last year when the market price dropped to 1,000 won per pyeong.

However, consumers have expectedly higher concerns over the cost of kimchi for this winter.

The price of cabbages is skyrocketing as demand for Korean cabbage increases, a situation caused by the high amounts of lead found in Chinese kimchi, as well as decreased cabbage field areas. Farmers have given up cabbage cultivation due to the sharp decline in cabbage prices over the past several years.

According to Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI), cabbage field area for this year decreased to about 35 million pyeong nationwide, down 17 percent from 42 million pyeong last year.

However, cabbage producing farmers insisted, “Actual areas for cabbage cultivation may be much smaller than reported, since we suffered a serious loss from last year’s heavy fall in cabbage prices, and many farmers could not afford to buy seeds.”

How Much Will Cabbage Prices Go Up?-

Garak Agriculture and Marine Products Wholesale Market in Songpa-gu, Seoul, saw cabbage prices rise to 6,615,000 won for a 5-ton truck on October 14, up 55.6 percent from 4,250,000 won at the end of September.

Shin Hyun-jo (64, Bundang-gu, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province), who recently prepared kimchi for the winter, confessed that “buying ready-made kimchi would be more economical than making it by herself, considering other ingredients,” adding, “I paid 27,000 won for six heads of cabbage.”

Large discount stores, including E-Mart and Lotte Mart, expected that the cost of preparing kimchi for this winter (for a family of four) would range from 126,000 won to 127,000 won, up eight to ten percent from last year.

The retail price of cabbages, which average around 3,000 won per head, is expected to range from 1,500 won to 2,400 won per head as shipments increase around the time people begin preparing kimchi for the winter. However, the expected range is 60 percent higher than last year’s price.

Lee Myeong-geun, a buyer for the vegetable team of E-Mart, said, “When kimchi-making season is around the corner, cabbage prices usually drop. But the price decline may not be guaranteed this year due to decreased cabbage field areas, the lead-contaminated kimchi incident, and other uncertainties, including damage from blight, harmful insects, and typhoons.”

Seong-Yub Ra cpu@donga.com kimhs@donga.com