Sugarcane has long been widely grown. Some commercialization was reported by the mid-nineteenth century, but the crop became of major importance only after World War II. In the early 1950s, production averaged 1.6 million tons annually, and in the late 1950s self-sufficiency in sugar was attained. In 1960 Thailand became a net exporter of sugar. Rising world prices led Thailand’s market-responsive farmers to expand cropped areas in the 1970s. In 1976 sugarcane production reached a record 26.1 million tons, and sugar output totaled 2.2 million tons, the latter amount being considerably in excess of international and domestic demands. Drought in 1977 greatly reduced output and seriously affected many small growers. Declining world prices after 1975, drought, and lower producer prices in 1978 led many farmers to shift to alternate crops. In 1986 about 24 million tons of sugarcane were produced.
Productivity was low compared with other major sugarcane-growing countries (about fifty-three tons of sugarcane per hectare against Taiwan’s seventy tons and Indonesia’s eighty tons in the mid-1970s). Introduction of new varieties and improved cultivation and cropping practices were needed to raise output levels. The principal sugarcane-growing areas were in and around Kanchanaburi Province and in Chon Buri Province in the Center. Sugarcane was also grown in the Northeast and in the North around Chiang Mai, Lampang, and Uttaradit.
Kenaf, a coarse fiber similar to jute but of somewhat lesser quality, is native to the country and has long been grown for local use in making sacks, cord, and twine. Commercial cultivation began in the Northeast in the 1950s, and production was largely concentrated in the central and eastern parts of the region in 1980. World shortages created by the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 temporarily stimulated Thai production of jute, as did shortages resulting from the 1971 civil war in Pakistan. The recovery of jute cultivation in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and broad swings in producer prices led many Thai farmers in the late 1970s to replace kenaf with cassava, which commanded a higher return. The 1984 kenaf crop was estimated at about 200,000 tons, compared with an average annual output of over 400,000 tons in the previous decade. Increased world demand, however, was expected to encourage a revival in planting.
Tobacco, an important foreign exchange earner, had long been grown by farmers for personal and local use. Virginia flue-cured tobacco had been produced commercially since the 1930s, but export began only in 1956. Some burley and oriental (Turkish) tobacco was also grown. United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia beginning in the mid-1960s opened new markets, and production of Virginia tobacco rose from 13,700 tons in 1967 to more than 50,000 tons in 1981. About half of the commercial tobacco was grown in the North and another quarter in the Northeast. Tobacco growers were licensed, and a large number operated under the aegis of the state-owned Thai Tobacco Monopoly.
Pineapples, exported chiefly as canned fruit and juice in the early 1980s, were grown solely as a supplementary crop for local use until the first pineapple cannery was opened in 1967. A shortage of fruit led several canneries to establish large pineapple plantations (ranging up to more than 3,000 hectares--in sharp contrast to the smallholding character of most Thai agriculture), which supplied about 40 percent of cannery needs in the late 1970s. The industry grew dramatically, and by the early 1980s Thailand was one of the world’s largest exporters of pineapples, producing about 1.6 million tons in 1984.
Production and export of coffee expanded rapidly after Thailand became a member of the International Coffee Organization in 1981. Exports of coffee beans, most of which were grown in the South, reached 20,600 tons in 1985.