China is planning to increase its soybean acreage over the next five years, and will encourage more farmers to switch from corn to the more lucrative crop, an agricultural official said Thursday.

Corn acreage will be cut by nearly 666,700 hectares this year as part of an effort to reduce huge stocks of the grain, according to a Ministry of Agriculture guideline issued in November.

Pan Weibo, deputy director with the Department of Crop Production under the Ministry of Agriculture, told a news conference that authorities will roll out a plan to encourage farmers to switch to soybean cultivation in the former corn areas.

The new guideline, expected to be issued by the end of the month, will include measures to help improve per unit area yields, quality and efficiency in soybean production.

The State Administration of Grain announced last week that the country will scrap its corn stockpiling strategy and allow the market to set the price for the grain in an effort to narrow the gap between domestic and international prices.

The government also said it will subsidize corn farmers in the main production areas, including Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. 

Outside the main production areas — which include 13 provincial areas in North, central and southwestern China — the country will promote the cultivation of silage corn, soybeans, other coarse grains and forage grass as a replacement for corn, the agricultural ministry noted in its guideline. 

Pan said the areas where soybean cultivation will be encouraged already are traditional soybean growth areas.

"The domestic production of soybeans in China is mainly for edible purposes, and those used for pressing will come from imports," he said.

The move is not aimed to increase the self-efficiency in soybeans, or to enable a competition between domestic and imported grains, he added.