Food is one of the essential commodities that sustains life on Earth, making agriculture one of the most important industries in the world.
Apart from providing security and health to the population, agriculture is an essential factor in economic growth, accounting for 4.3% of the global GDP. It is also an integral component of international trade, as much of the staple foods such as sugar, soybeans, and rice are produced and exported worldwide.
But the growth of the agricultural sectors has been hitting many roadblocks in recent years, elevated by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the Ukraine-Russia war.
The war in Ukraine has disturbed the world food market, as Ukraine and Russia are among the largest food producers in the world, with Ukraine being the largest producer of sunflower seeds (a crucial agricultural commodity in food production factories). These factors created uncertainty among people about the future of our food production.
To shed some light on where our food comes from and which countries trade most of it, we researched the newest data on agricultural production. Below, you can read our findings.
While agriculture developed throughout the world, different regions developed different crops. However, globalization has seen a shift in the cultivation and exportation of foods worldwide. According to a study in 2016, over two-thirds of agricultural products in national diets worldwide originated from a far-away region. With the rise of technology in agriculture in the past 50 years, this trend has accelerated quickly.
For example, tomatoes originate from the Andes (Latin America), yet, they are a staple food in many cuisines around the world. Today, the biggest producers of tomatoes are countries such as China, India, and Turkey. At the same time, the Netherlands (a country far, far away from the Andes) is the biggest exporter of tomatoes.
Another example is wheat, which was initially cultivated in the Mediterranean and Central and West Asia. Today, wheat is produced in over 100 countries globally and ranks as the biggest agricultural commodity for over 14 countries.
As we see, the origin of food plays a small role in the food we get on our table. Today, countries worldwide have domesticated crops from far away regions which have directly contributed to the food security for communities worldwide. However, with crops reaching an international level, do we know which agricultural products are produced the most? Let’s jump to the next section to find out.
In the last two decades, the production of crops worldwide increased by over 53%, reaching a record high of 9.8 billion tons in 2020. While a plethora of agricultural commodities are produced worldwide, in 2019, only four crops account for half of the world’s agricultural production. Sugar cane tops the list with 1.9 billion tons, accounting for 21% of the total output. It is followed by corn with 1.1 billion tons (12%) and rice and wheat with 0.8 billion tons (8%) each.
Now, let’s explore in more detail the top 7 agricultural products that are most commonly cultivated in countries around the world.
Milk is one of the most commonly cultivated agricultural commodities in the world. Today, 37 countries have cow milk as their top agricultural product. Germany is one of the biggest milk producers, with over 33 million tons of milk produced every year. In monetary terms, this adds to 12.9 billion US dollars.
New Zealand is another big cow milk producer, with 21.9 million tons of milk produced every year, reaching a market value of $7.8 billion.
While sugarcane originated in South and Southeast Asia, today, it is commonly used in various regions worldwide, with 37 countries accounting for sugar cane as their top production crop.
Even though countries like Thailand, Pakistan, and Australia (where the sugarcane originates) top the list in sugarcane production, the subtropical climate of South America and Africa creates a perfect environment for sugarcane production. For example, Latin American countries such as Columbia (24.6 million tons), Cuba (13.8 million tons), Ecuador (11.1 million tons), and Bolivia (10.9 million tons) are big players in sugarcane production. Alongside, in 2020 Mexico produced over 53.9 million tons of sugarcane, accounting for $2.4 billion in trade.
At the same time, African countries produced over 5% of total sugarcane in 2020, with South Africa (18.2 million tons), Egypt (14.9 million tons), and Kenya (6.7 million tons) being the primary producers.
Corn is the most produced cereal globally, with over 1.1 billion tons produced in 2020. What led corn to become a widely cultivated crop is its easiness of cultivation, drying, storing, and transport.
Though it was first cultivated in Central America and Mexico, today, corn is grown in all continents, excluding Antarctica. In 2020, over 165 countries produced corn, with 16 listing corn as their most cultivated harvest.
The United States is currently the top producer of corn, with over 360 million tons produced, holding a market value of $52.4 billion. It is followed by China, which in 2020 had 260.8 million tons of corn. From the other side of the world, Brazil harvested over 103.9 million tons of corn, ranking as the world’s third-largest producer. Together, these three countries produced about two-thirds of the world’s corn.
Ukraine, another big player in corn production, cultivated over 30.2 million tons, valued at $5.2 billion in trade. Its neighbor Russia lists corn as its most produced agricultural product, with 13.8 million tons produced in 2020. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February put a halt to agriculture in Ukraine. At the same time, countries around the world are shutting off trade with Russia. This disruption made the price of corn jump by 19.1% in March 2022 compared to the previous month.
Since it was first domesticated in 9,600 BC, wheat has played a key role in food and nutritional security worldwide. Today, after corn, wheat is the most produced agricultural product globally, with over 760.9 million tons of wheat cultivated in 2020.
Its favorable cultivating conditions allowed wheat to become a crash crop for countries in every direction.
In 2020, wheat was grown by 126 countries worldwide, while 13 of them had wheat as their most produced crop, including Russia, France, and Canada.
China is the world’s biggest wheat producer, with over 134.2 million tons of wheat produced in 2020, holding a $53.4 billion value in global trade. India is the second-largest producer, with over 107.5 million tons of wheat cultivated.
Russia, the third-largest wheat producer, harvested over 85.8 million tons of wheat. At the same time, its neighbor Ukraine is the 8th largest producer globally, with 24.9 million tons of wheat cultivated. Together they account for about 30% of the global wheat trade, making the region one of the major breadbasket regions.
Because of the region’s significance in wheat production, experts predict the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war will create a shortage of wheat supply in the following months. The effects are already present, with wheat prices spiking to 19.7% in March 2022, compared to a month earlier. Since wheat is an essential raw material for the processed food industry, the increase can cause a ripple effect on prices for various foods.
About 13,500 years ago, the Chinese domesticated the first strains of rice. Since then, rice has become a staple food responsible for feeding half of the world’s population. It is cultivated in over 110 countries across the globe which in 2020 reached a total production of 756.7 million tons.
Asia produces 89% of the world’s rice, China being the world’s largest producer of rice with a 211.8 million tons harvest in 2020. India comes as the second-largest rice producer, with 178.3 million tons.
Rice constitutes the most produced crop for 12 countries, including Bangladesh (54.9 million tons), Myanmar (25.1 million tons), Cambodia (10.9 million tons), Nepal (5.5 million tons), and Sri Lanka (5.1 million tons).
Did you know that potatoes were first domesticated in the Andes region? They were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers, and from there, potato cultivation spread worldwide. Today, South American countries produce only 5% of the world’s potatoes.
In 2020, half of the world’s potatoes were produced in Asia, with China (78.1 million tons) and India (51.3 million tons) being the world’s largest producers. At the same time, Europe supplied a little less than one-third of the world’s potato production, from which Russia (19.6 million tons) and Ukraine (20.8 million tons) top the list. The United States ranks as the fifth-largest producer, with a yield of 18.7 million tons of potatoes.
Since Russia and Ukraine alone account for one-tenth of the world’s potato production, the Russian invasion of Ukraine surged the market price for potatoes and other staple foods such as pasta, bread, and sunflower oil. Experts predict the potato price will increase up to 30%, which automatically increases the price of many processed foods, including everybody’s favorite potato chips.
Agriculture is the backbone of the world’s economic activity. In 2020, agriculture held a value of $3.6 trillion, an increase of $2.54 trillion from 20 years ago.
In the past two decades, South America, Africa, and Asia were the regions that expanded their agricultural production the most. During the period, the production capacities of Asia almost doubled from 3.3 billion tons to 5.1 billion tons. At the same time, South America’s crop production surged twofold, from 748.4 million tons in 2000 to 1.4 billion tons in 2020.
|Item||The Largest Producer||Quantity Produced (tonnes)||Second-Largest Producer||Quantity Produced (tonnes)||Third-Largest Producer||Quantity Produced (tonnes)|
|Seed cotton||China||29M||India||17M||United States||9.7M|
|Cow Milk||United States||101M||India||87M||Brazil||36M|
|Sugar Beet||Russia||33M||United States||30M||Germany||28M|
|Chicken Meat||United States||20M||China||15M||Brazil||13M|
|Cattle Meat||United States||12M||Brazil||10M||China||6M|
|Pig Meat||China||41M||United States||12M||Germany||5.1M|
In 2020, half of the global agricultural production came from Asia, with economies such as China and India being key players in the world’s sphere. Europe harvested one-tenth of the world’s agricultural production, with Russia, Ukraine, Spain, and Germany among the biggest producers.
At the same time, North America produced 826.9 million tons of agricultural products, or about 8.5% of the world’s aggregate output. South America supplied one-sixth of the world’s agricultural output, mainly coming from Brazil and Argentina.
To examine in more detail which countries produce most of our food, below we listed the seven largest global agricultural producers.
China is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, with agricultural production of $1.1 trillion in 2020—a record high. Much of its success in agriculture comes from its vast geographical land, rich soil, and a large workforce. With less than 10% of the world’s arable land, China produces 25% of the world’s grain, making it a critical player in global food security.
In 2020, China was the lead producer of over 30 crops, including wheat, rice, tomatoes, and potatoes. Rice was the most produced crop in China, which reached a value of 353.1 million tons in total. While in that year, China grew over 134.2 million tons of wheat. In global trade, its wheat production is valued at $53.4 billion. China is also the top producer of potatoes (78.1 million tons), tomatoes (64.7 million tons), cucumbers (72.7 million tons), and spinach (28.5 million tons).
Thanks to its rich soil, which makes harvesting more productive, China also ranks as the second-largest producer in the world for
For the longest time, the United States has been a significant player in agricultural production, thanks to its land composition, natural resources, and technological advances. In 2020 the US agricultural production accounted for $134.7 billion, about 0.6% of its national GDP.
In 2020, the United States was the world’s largest producer of corn (360.2 million tons), harvesting about one-third of global production. It also produces over half of the global almond output and over one-third of global blueberry production.
The United States ranks as the top producer of cow milk (101.2 million tons), chicken (20.4 million tons), meat (12.3 million tons), and sorghum (9.4 million tons).
Also, the US is the second-largest producer in the world for:
Over the past 20 years, Russia’s agricultural industry has been rapidly growing, with its production value increasing from $10 billion in 2000 to $85.5 billion in 2020. Thanks to investment and technological development, its cereal output turned Russia into a global player in food production, feeding over 2 billion people worldwide.
Today, Russia is the world’s largest producer of barley and sugar beets accounting for 13% and 14% of the world’s total production, respectively. Russia also cultivates over a third of global sunflower seeds production and one-sixth of oats output.
Plus, Russia is the third-largest producer of wheat and rye. In 2020 alone, it produced over 85.8 million tons of grain and 2.3 million tons of rye.
Thanks to the rising global demands, technological advancement, and increasing prices, Brazil’s agricultural industry has been accelerating fast. In 2020, its agricultural production value reached $85 billion, a 30.4% increase from 2019. To catch up with the rapid growth, Brazil is expanding its agricultural land, which in 2020 was about one-third of Brazil’s total area. The expansion constitutes a 22% increase from 9 years ago.
Brazil is known for its production of grains, cereals, beans, and oilseeds. In 2020, Brazil produced one-third of the world’s production of soybeans (121.7 million tons), coffees (3.7 million tons), and oranges (16.7 million tons).
About half of global sugarcane production (40.5%) comes from Brazil, along with one-sixth of the worldwide meat production. It is also the third-largest producer of corn (103.9 million tons), cow milk (36.5 million tons), and chicken (13.7 million tons).
In 2016, the agriculture sector accounted for 23% of the country’s GDP, and 59% of the workforce made a living from agriculture. The agricultural industry is essential for India’s food and security as it is estimated that 70% of the rural population depends mainly on agriculture.
In 2020, India produced half of the world’s mango production (24.7 million tons) and 20% of global wheat production (107.5 million tons). A quarter of the global output of rice (178.3 million tons), sugar cane (370,5 million tons), and bananas (31.5 million tons) came from India.
India also ranks as the second-largest producer of:
With favorable climate conditions and long history of agriculture cultivation, Spain continues to be a leading European producer, offering a vast array of agricultural products. In 2020, the value of agricultural production in Spain was $54.4 billion, a 3.5% share of the country’s GDP.
Spain is well known for its vegetables and fruits. In 2020, over one-third of agricultural output came from vegetable and fruit cultivation.
Spain is also the world’s top producer of olives, with over 8.1 million tons of olives produced in 2020, accounting for 39.1% of total production. Also, it is the second-largest producer of barley (11.4 million tons) and peaches (1.3 million tons). It also produced one-tenth of the world’s almonds, reaching a market value of $507.6 million.
Grape cultivation in Spain is a tradition that today supplies the market with 6.8 million tons, making Spain the third-largest producer of grapes globally.
Today, Ukraine is an agricultural superpower, which plants over two-thirds of its agricultural land, an area larger than New Mexico. The growth of Ukraine’s agriculture is partly due to its rich fertilized soil and modernization efforts in the past decades.
In 2020, Ukraine was among the world’s largest producers of wheat, corn, sunflower seeds, barley, sugar beets, potatoes, and soybeans. Together, the production of these crops in Ukraine holds a market value of $21.4 billion.
Ukraine is the biggest producer of sunflower seeds (13.1 million tons), harvesting over a quarter of the global sunflower production. That’s why since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, the price of sunflower oil has increased by 25%.
Considered one of Europe’s major breadbasket regions, Ukraine produces over 30.2 million tons of corn, 24.9 million tons of wheat, and 7.6 million tons of barley. Together these three crops account for $10.9 billion in the market. Besides, Ukraine is also the world’s third-largest producer of potatoes and pumpkins, with about 21 million tons and 1.3 million tons produced in 2020.
As we have seen so far, not all crops are created equally, meaning some are more vital in providing food and nutritional security. At the same time, we witness that a group of countries produces most of the crops essential for feeding the world’s population. Today, thanks to globalization, nations can exchange their goods and close the gaps in their agricultural production.
Same as in other industries, global trade in agriculture has been increasing rapidly, with its share of the total GDP of agriculture rising by 40% compared to 30 years ago. This means that the export and import of agricultural goods are expanding more rapidly than the global agriculture GDP.
At the same time, with the rise of economies such as China, India, and Brazil, we are witnessing a shift in export patterns, turning developing countries into major global export players for agriculture. These economies have also increased their production capacities, meaning that they rely less on food imports.
|Items||Largest Exporter||Export Quantity (tonnes)||Second-Largest Exporter||Export Quantity (tonnes)||Third-Largest Exporter||Export Quantity (tonnes)|
|Rice, paddy||United States||1.3M||Brazil||518K||India||414K|
|Seed Cotton||United States||312K||Greece||274K||Benin||198K|
|Cow Milk||Germany||1.5M||Czechia||896K||United Kingdom||751K|
|Chicken Meat||Brazil||3.8M||United States||3.5M||Netherlands||1.1M|
|Pig Meat||Spain||1.2M||Germany||952K||United States||848K|
Today, some of the most exported agricultural products globally are wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, barley, rapeseed, palm oil, sunflower seeds, and bananas.
In 2020, the total exported quantities of wheat reached over 198.5 million tons, a quarter of total global wheat production. The largest exporter of grain was Russia (37.2 million tons), followed by the United States (26.1 million tons) and Canada (26.1 million tons).
Soybean is another major exported agricultural commodity in the world. In 2020, the total export quantity of soybeans reached 173.3 million tons with a market value of 64.1 billion US dollars. The biggest exporters of soybeans were Brazil with 82.9 million tons, the United States with 64.5 million tons, and Paraguay with 6.6 million tons.
Corn, a staple food in many countries worldwide, is an essential commodity for international trade, whose export market value for 2020 was $36.7 billion. The top three exporters of corn were the United States, with 51.8 million tons of corn exported; Argentina, with 36.8 million tons; and Brazil, with 34.4 million tons.
Rapeseed also is at the top of the list of agricultural exports. In 2020, over 25.1 million tons of rapeseed were exported worldwide. Most of the exported rapeseed came from Canada, which exported 11.7 million tons, followed by Ukraine with 2.3 million tons, and the Netherlands with 1.9 million tons.
It is no surprise that the largest countries in the world are among the biggest producers of agricultural products. However, for countries like China, India, and Brazil, much of its output is dedicated to feeding their population, which means a smaller amount is exported worldwide.
Yet, with the investments in agriculture technologies in the past decades, these countries are increasing their production capacities, allowing them to ship more agriproducts to the global market.
As some nations become global players in food export, other countries become heavily dependent on trade with those countries. However, when the exporting countries have a low democracy index, exchanging goods with them becomes a risky move. A shift in the policies, laws, and government in these low democratic-ranking countries would sprawl a food crisis among the nations that rely heavily on those exports.
For the longest time, the United States has been the world’s largest agricultural exporter. The position is thanks to the technological advances in the past few decades and that the US has a 0.811 democracy index, meaning that it is less risky for countries to rely on trade with the US.
In 2020, US agricultural exports were valued at $147.9 billion.
The US has a large assortment of agricultural products that exports, starting from corn (which they are the global export leader) to fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
In 2020, soybeans were the highest value exported goods for the United States, which reached an export value of $25.8 billion. Corn and wheat are other high-value exports for the US, which accounted for $9.5 billion and $6.3 billion of total value agricultural exports.
Other highly exported agricultural goods in 2020 include:
Though the Netherlands is a much smaller country than the US (it ranks as the sixth-smallest country in the EU), it has become the largest exporter of agricultural products. In 2020, the total value of agricultural exports was $100.8 billion, increasing by $3.4 billion from the previous year. Much of the Netherlands’ rise as a global agricultural exporter is attributed to its rich soil, enormous investments in farming technology, and ports being a central trade hub for Europe.
In 2020 Netherlands exported one-sixth of the world’s tomatoes and potatoes, with over 1.1 million tons and 2.1 million tons shipped worldwide. In the same year, the Netherlands was the largest exporter of eggs (415.3 thousand tons) and onions (1.7 million tons).
Since less than one-third of the Netherlands’ exports account for the re-export of goods, the Netherlands now ranks as the world’s third-largest exporter of rapeseed (1.9 million tons), palm oil (1.2 million tons), avocados (375.6 thousand tons), and chilies and peppers (467.4 thousand tons).
It is no surprise that one of the world’s largest Agri producers also leads in the export. In 2020, Brazil’s agricultural exports reached $85.1 billion, a 6% jump from the previous year.
In 2020 Brazil exported over 82.9 million tons of soybeans or about half of the global soybeans trade. It is also a lead exporter of coffee, accounting for 30% of global exports of coffee. In 2020, its coffee export held a value of $4.9 billion. It also exported about 18% of the world’s corn, with $5.8 billion worth in trade.
In the same year, Brazil ranked as the second-largest exporter of rice (518.4 thousand tons) and the third-largest exporter of mangoes (243.4 million tons).
Yet, Brazil has a 0.599 democracy rank, which identifies its underdeveloped political culture as a risk factor for other nations that trade with Brazil.
Though most of China’s agricultural production goes to feeding its population, China continues to be among the largest agricultural exporters, with $67.2 billion worth of agricultural goods exported in 2020.
Food preparation materials and crude materials account for about one-fifth of their total export, with over $10.2 billion in market value. In 2020, it exported about 5% of the globally traded rice, with over 2.2 million tons shipped worldwide.
Moreover, China is a notable exporter of fruits and vegetables, such as apples (1.1 million tons), pears (539.4 thousand tons), grapes (424.9 thousand tons), spinach (60.7 thousand tons), carrots (749.8 thousand tons), and leeks (70.2 thousand tons).
Though the world relies heavily on exports from China, its democracy index of 0.048 shows that its autocratic regime can be a considerable risk factor for other countries. It means that with a slight shift in its policies and the lack of free speech to object to it, China’s political environment can hinder trade with other nations, thus creating a food crisis.
Germany, a world economic power, is also among the largest global agricultural exporters, with over $79.5 billion worth of agricultural exports in 2020.
In 2020, Germany ranked as the world’s largest exporter of cow milk, sugar beets, and hops, which together hold a market value of $1.1 billion. In fact, over one-sixth of traded cow milk comes from Germany, while its sugar beet trade accounts for over two-thirds (37.8%) of the global export of sugar beets.
Germany is also the second-largest exporter of rye, exporting 265.2 thousand tons in 2020, accounting for 11.8% of the total rye trade in the world.
After its EU companion France and the Netherlands, Germany ranks as the third-largest exporter of potatoes globally, with over 1.9 million tons of potatoes exported in 2020, about one-sixth of the total trade of potatoes.
Since the start of agriculture 10,000 years ago, a large number of crops have been domesticated. However, not all crops are made equal as some play an important role in providing food and nutritional security globally, including wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes.
At the same time, the globalization efforts of the past century created a global food production system with agricultural products such as wheat, corn, and potatoes being cultivated in countries around the world. Yet, some vast countries such as the United States, China, India, and Brazil produce most of the food. They also play an essential role in global food security as some countries heavily rely on the exports coming from these countries.
We thoroughly researched datasets from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for this article, collecting world and country-based data on food production quantities and market values.
After analyzing the data, we ranked the most produced agricultural commodities and the world’s largest food producers in this report. Knowing that international trade plays a significant role in the distribution of agricultural products worldwide and contributes to the economy of a country, we elaborated on the most exported agricultural goods and the leading countries in the agricultural trade. We compiled the findings from this research in this report on the current state of agricultural production and trade.
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