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Agriculture in the United States: Map


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Agriculture is a major industry in the United Statesmarker and the country is a net exporter of food. As of the last census of agriculture in 2007, there were 2.2 million farms, covering an area of 922 million acres (373 million hectares), an average of 418 acres (170 hectares) per farm.


Corn, turkeys, tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts, and sunflower seeds constitute some of the major holdovers from the agricultural endowment of the Americas.

European agriculture practices greatly affected the New England landscape, leaving behind many physical foot prints. Colonists brought livestock over from Europe which caused many changes to the land. Grazing animals required a lot of land and food to sustain them and due to grazing, native grasses were destroyed and European species began to replace them. New species of weeds were introduced and began to thrive as they were capable of withstanding the grazing of animals, whereas native species could not.

Along with livestock changing the plant species in New England from the original native species to European species they also contributed to the deterioration of the forests and fields. Colonists would cut down the trees and then allow their cattle and livestock to graze freely in the forest and never plant more trees. The animals trampled and tore up the ground so much as to cause long-term destruction and damage.

Soil exhaustion was a huge problem in New England agriculture. Plowing with oxen did allow the colonist to farm more land but it increased erosion and decreased soil fertility. This was due to deeper plow cuts in the soil that allowed the soil more contact with oxygen causing nutrient depletion. In grazing fields, the large number of cattle in the New England, the soil was being compacted by the cattle and this didn’t give the soil enough oxygen to sustain life.

In the U.S., farms spread from the colonies westward along with the settlers. In cooler regions, wheat was often the crop of choice when lands were newly settled, leading to a "wheat frontier" that moved westward over the course of years. Also very common in the antebellum Midwest was farming corn while raising hog, complementing each other especially since it was difficult to get grain to market before the canals and railroads. After the "wheat frontier" had passed through an area, more diversified farms including dairy cattle generally took its place. Warmer regions saw plantings of cotton and herds of beef cattle. In the early colonial south, raising tobacco and cotton was common, especially through the use of slave labor until the Civil War. In the northeast, slaves were used in agriculture until the early 19th century. In the Midwest, slavery was prohibited by the Freedom Ordinance of 1787.

The introduction and broad adoption of scientific agriculture since the mid nineteenth century has made a large improvement in the USA's economic growth. This development was facilitated by the Morrill Act and the Hatch Act of 1887 which established in each state a land-grant university (with a mission to teach and study agriculture) and a federally-funded system of agricultural experiment stations and cooperative extension networks which place extension agents in each state.

Soybeans were not widely cultivated in the United States until the 1950s, when soybeans began to replace oats and wheat.

Significant areas of farmland were abandoned during the Great Depression and incorporated into nascent national forest. Later, "Sodbuster" and "Swampbuster" restrictions written into federal farm programs starting in the 1970s reversed a decades-long trend of habitat destruction that began in 1942 when farmers were encouraged to plant all possible land in support of the war effort. In the United States, federal programs administered through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts provide technical assistance and partial funding to farmers who wish to implement management practices to conserve soil and limit erosion.

Major agricultural products

The top twenty agricultural products of the United States by value as reported by the FAO in 2003 (Products are ranked by their mass, multiplied by the 1999-2001 international prices. Mass is in metric tonnes):

1. Corn 256,904,992
2. Cattle meat 11,736,300
3. Cow's milk, whole, fresh 78,155,000
4. Chicken meat 15,006,000
5. Soybeans 65,795,300
6. Pig meat 8,574,290
7. Wheat 63,589,820
8. Cotton lint 3,967,810
9. Hen egg 5,141,000
10. Turkey meat 2,584,200
11. Tomatoes 12,275,000
12. Potatoes 20,821,930
13. Grapes 6,125,670
14. Orange 10,473,450
15. Rice, paddy 9,033,610
16. Apples 4,241,810
17. Sorghum 10,445,900
18. Lettuce 4,490,000
19. Cottonseed 6,072,690
20. Sugar beets 27,764,390

The only other crops to ever appear in the top 20 in the last 40 years were, commonly, tobacco, barley, and oats, and, rarely, peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds (in all, only 26 of the 188 crops the FAO tracks worldwide). Alfalfa and hay would both be in the top ten in 2003 if they were tracked by FAO.


Value of production

Major Crops in the U.S.A. - 1997
(in US$ billions)
Corn $24.4
Soybeans $17.7
Wheat $8.6
Alfalfa $8.3
Cotton $6.1
Hay, other than alfalfa $5.1
Tobacco $3.0
Rice $1.7
Sorghum $1.4
Barley $.9
1997 USDAmarker-NASS reports, [33270]

Note alfalfa and hay are not tracked by the FAO and the production of tobacco in the U.S. has fallen 60% between 1997 and 2003.


U.S. agriculture has a high yield relative to other countries. The yield was (in 2004):[33271]
  • Corn for grain, average of 160.4 bushels harvested per acre (10.07 t/ha)
  • Soybean for beans, average of 42.5 bushels harvested per acre (2.86 t/ha)
  • Wheat, average of 43.2 bushels harvested per acre (2.91 t/ha, was 44.2 bu/ac or 2.97 t/ha in 2003)


The major livestock industries in the United States are:

Inventories in the United States at the end of 1997 were:
  • 403,000,000 chickens
  • 99,500,000 cattle
  • 59,900,000 hogs
  • 7,600,000 sheep

Goats, horses, turkeysmarker and bees are also raised, though in lesser quantities. Inventory data is not as readily available as for the major industries. For the three major goat-producing states (AZ, NM, and TX) there were 1,200,000 goats at the end of 2002. There were 5,300,000 horses in the United States at the end of 1998. There were 2,500,000 colonies of bees at the end of 2002.

Farm type or majority enterprise type

Farm type is based on which commodities are the majority crops grown on a farm. Nine common types include:



Agriculture in the United States is primarily governed by periodically-renewed U.S. farm bills. Governance is both a federal and a local responsibility with the United States Department of Agriculturemarker being the federal department responsible. Pro-agriculture Americans form an extremely powerful interest group in American politics and have since the founding of the USA. Government aid includes research into crop types and regional suitability as well as many kinds of subsidies, some price supports and loan programs. U.S. farmers are not subject to production quotas and some laws are different for farms compared to other workplaces.

Labor laws prohibiting children in other workplaces provide some exemptions for children working on farms with complete exemptions for children working on their family's farm. Children can also gain permits from vocational training schools or the 4-H club which allow them to do jobs they would otherwise not be permitted to do.

A large part of the U.S. farm workforce is made up of migrant and seasonal workers, many of them recent immigrants from Latin America or aliens working under work permits. Additional laws apply to these workers and their housing which is often provided by the farmer.


In 1870, 70-80 percent of the US population was employed in agriculture. , approximately 2-3 percent of the population is directly employed in agriculture. See this USDA link, for more information and history on U.S. agriculture.

In 2004, of the 145 million employed workers in the US, 834,000 of them held jobs as agricultural workers. 83% of these jobs were as farm workers. The median hourly income was $7.70 for farmworkers planting, growing and harvesting crops, and $8.31 for farmworkers tending to animals.[33275]

Agriculture safety and health

Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death. In an average year, 516 workers die doing farm work in the U.S. (1992-2005). Of these deaths, 101 are caused by tractor overturns. Every day, about 243 agricultural workers suffer lost-work-time injuries, and about 5% of these result in permanent impairment.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers, accounting for 42% of all work-related fatalities of young workers in the U.S. between 1992 and 2000. Unlike other industries, half the young victims in agriculture were under age 15. For young agricultural workers aged 15–17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces Agricultural work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, work at elevations, and work around livestock.

An estimated 1.26 million children and adolescents under 20 years of age resided on farms in 2004, with about 699,000 of these youth performing work on the farms. In addition to the youth who live on farms, an additional 337,000 children and adolescents were hired to work on U.S. farms in 2004. On average, 103 children are killed annually on farms (1990-1996). Approximately 40 percent of these deaths were work-related. In 2004, an estimated 27,600 children and adolescents were injured on farms; 8,100 of these injuries were due to farm work.


Some US research centers are focused on the topic of health and safety in agricultural practices. Most of these groups are funded by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, the US Department of Agriculture or other state agencies.Centers include:

See also


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