The United States' (US) agricultural sector produces over $300 billion in commodities annually and employs millions of people. At the start of the decade, American farmers owned over 2.2 million farms, and although agriculture is practiced in every US state, it is concentrated in the Great Plains of the Midwest, where the wetter, eastern half produces corn and soybean, while the drier, western half produces wheat. The valleys of California produce fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and are collectively known as the Salad Bowl. The Southern US was a major producer of rice, tobacco, and cotton, but the sector has declined over the past century. The United States is a leader in seed development and improvement, including hybridization, and is expanding the use of agricultural products beyond only food and into biofuels and bioplastics. Intensive farming by mechanization plays an important role in US agriculture and has established the country as a top global food producer. The most produced agricultural commodities in the country are highlighted below.
The United States is the world's largest producer of corn. In 2018, the nation had 89.1 million acres of land under corn, 81.7 million acres of which were harvested, while the rest was converted to silage. That same year American farmers harvested over 14.4 billion bushels of corn worth $51.9 billion. Most of the corn is used as an energy source in the production of livestock feed, while the rest is used in the manufacture of food and industrial ingredients such as sweeteners, starch, corn oil, alcohol, and ethanol. Additionally, between 10 to 20% of US corn is exported. Approximately 90% of US corn is produced in the Corn Belt, which includes the state of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, and Alabama. Alaska is also a major producer of corn.
Cow's Milk (whole, fresh)
The United States is also the world's top producer of cow's milk. In 2018, the country produced 98.7 million tonnes, representing a one million tonne increase compared to 2017. India produces more milk than the US, but a large percentage of its total comes from buffaloes rather than cows. Milk is produced in all 50 US states, but California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Idaho, and New York are the large-scale producers. Large dairy farms can contain as many as 15,000 cows, while smaller farms have an average of about 30. In addition to direct consumption, milk is also used to produce dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. Importers of US milk include Mexico, Saudi Arabia, China, and Canada.
The United States is the world's top soybean producer. In 2018, the country produced over 120 million tonnes, representing 34% of global production. The United States exports about 42% of its soybeans, and uses the remainder to process human and animal foods, as well as to produce biodiesel. The crop is planted on over 35 million hectares across Kentucky, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana. The demand for biodiesel products has a significant impact on the price of soybeans.
The United States is the fourth-largest producer of wheat after China, India, and Russia. It is the third most-produced crop in the US after corn and soybeans. The country produced about 50 million tonnes on 46 million acres in 2018, compared to 58 million tones on 50 million acres in 2013. The declining production of wheat is attributed to lower returns, changes in government policies, and increased global competition. Countries that traditionally imported US wheat, including China and many in the European Union, are now large-scale producers.
The sugar beet is a plant that contains a high concentration of sucrose, and is therefore used in the production of sugar. Unlike sugarcane, which grows in tropical and subtropical zones, sugar beets grow in temperate regions of the world. The United States is the third-largest sugar beet producer, after Russia and France, and the crop accounts for 55% of sugar produced in the country. In 2018, about 30 million tonnes of sugar beets were produced in the United States.
21st Century Challenges Faced By US Farmers
Despite the progress achieved over the past century, US farmers face similar challenges as those experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Weeds, insects, and crop diseases are among the traditional challenges, while new problems include climate change and competition from other countries such as China. Heavy and frequent rainfall erodes soil and damage roots, preventing plants from reaching maturity. Extreme floods, especially along major rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi, lead to massive losses such as the $8 billion loss experienced in 2008. The European corn borer thrives in warm and wet conditions, such as those in the Corn Belt, and as a result, the pest has caused millions of dollars in losses each year. However, despite these setbacks, the United States remains a significant player in the global agriculture market.