Thailand is one of the world's biggest rice producers, with paddy output of 27 million tonnes in 2003. Thailand is also the world's biggest rice exporter: annual shipments are worth more than $2,000 million and reached 7.5 million tonnes in 2003. Its main export markets are Indonesia, Nigeria, Iran, the United States and Singapore.
Thailand's success in the international rice trade is due to its high quality, long-grain white rice, which has a substantial price advantage over lower grades. This emphasis on grain quality is also the main reason for Thai farmers' limited adoption of modern, high-yielding rice varieties.
Rice is grown on some 10 million ha of land and in all provinces of the country. More than half of the total rice area is in the northeast, although the Central Plains is known as the nation's "rice bowl". About 25% of rice lands are irrigated, while the rest is still rainfed.
Rice farmers are generally subsistence farmers, selling only their excess production. The main surplus is produced in the central region. Transplanting is the dominant method of crop establishment for rainfed lowland and irrigated rice in the northern and north-eastern regions. In the central region, the seeding of pre-germinated seed in wet soils has increasingly replaced transplanting in irrigated rice production in order to cut costs.
Thai cuisine is considered among the world's most delicious, with a unique blend of hot, sour and sweet tastes. The country's famously fragrant rice is always an essential accompaniment.