Some Facts About Global Agriculture

This is the first week of classes at UC Davis. I am teaching my PhD course in agricultural supply. On the first day of class, I present some facts about world, US, and California agriculture. I give the students an informal quiz, asking them to identify, for example, the biggest crops in the world by value of production.

In this week’s Ag Data News, I share some of this material with you. Don’t worry, the quiz won’t be graded.

What Percentage of the World Economy is Agriculture?

The size of the global economy is the sum of income received by everyone in the world. Determining how much of that income goes to agriculture is difficult. Do you just count the income of farmers? Or do you count the income of farmers and those paid by farmers, such as fertilizer or seed companies? Should you include income received by food processing firms and retailers? For this exercise, I’m choosing the value of agricultural production, which is equal to the income of farmers and their suppliers.

In pre-industrial societies, agriculture generated half of income and employed three quarters of the labor force. In modern times, what is the value of agricultural production as a percentage of world GDP? Is it 2, 5, 8, or 10?

To see the answer, click here. To see how it varies by continent, click here.

How is the World’s Land Used?

Agricultural land use falls into two categories: meadows/pastures and cropland. Meadows and pastures are used to feed animals at varying degrees of intensity. Forest covers a significant share of the world’s surface, most of which is naturally regenerating. The “other” category includes deserts, urban areas, shrubland, and glaciers (mostly Antarctica).

Agricultural land use increased six fold between 1500 and 1960, but has been relatively constant in the last 60 years. There have been regional changes in the past 60 years, with declines in the United States and Europe and increases in Africa, Brazil, and China.

Which color in the figure below represents which use of land?

To see the answer, click here.

Which Countries are the World’s Biggest Ag Producers?

Different countries evoke different imagery. Some make us think of farming and others of cities; some are big and some are small. The six colors in the figure below represent the value of agricultural production in 2020 in the top 5 countries plus “other”. Which color corresponds to which country?

To see the answer, click here.

What are the World’s Biggest Crop and Livestock Products?

Overall, the value of agricultural production from crops is about double that of animal products. There is much more diversity of crops than animal products. The top 5 crops contribute about 40% of the value of production. For animal products, the top 5 contribute about 80% of production value.

The six colors next to “Crop” in the figure below represent the value of agricultural production in 2020 in the top 5 crops plus “other”. The six colors next to “Animal” represent the value of agricultural production in 2020 in the top 5 animal products plus “other”. Clue: the first color in each category is “other”.

Which color corresponds to which product? To see the answer, click here.

What has Happened to Prices of Major Crops Over Time?

No quiz this time. I’m just going to give you the answer. Adjusted for inflation, the prices of the four biggest crops declined until around 2006. The downward trend stopped in 2006. In the ensuing years, there have been two big price booms: 2007-2013 and 2020-2022.

The main driver of declining prices was increasing productivity. Global production per acre (yield) of the major crops is 2.5-3.5 times higher than it was in 1960, depending on the crop. Productivity growth has slowed recently, and demand has increased due in large part to biofuels and economic growth in China. These trends, when combined with climate change which will put further pressure on yields in the coming years, imply that continuing declines in agricultural commodity prices are not guaranteed.

What are the America’s Biggest Crop and Livestock Products?

Compared to the rest of the world, animal products make up relatively more of farm revenue in the US, with about $180b in animal product receipts and $220b in crop receipts. The top 5 crops contribute about 60% of the value of production. For animal products, the top 5 contribute more than 90% of production value.

The six colors next to “Crop” in the figure below represent farm cash receipts in 2020 in the top 5 crops plus “other”. The six colors next to “Animal” represent farm cash receipts in 2020 in the top 5 animal products plus “other”. These data are cash receipts by farmers, which differs for some products from the value of agricultural production in FAO data (eg, value of meat production vs receipts from sale of animals). Clue: the first color in each category is “other”.

Which color corresponds to which product? To see the answer, click here.

What are California’s Biggest Crop and Livestock Products?

Compared to the rest of the US, animal products make up relatively less of farm revenue in the US, with about $13b in animal product receipts and more than $40b in crop receipts. The top 5 crops contribute about 60% of the value of production. Animal agriculture in the state is dominated by two products.

The six colors next to “Crop” in the figure below represent farm cash receipts in 2020 in the top 5 crops plus “other”. The six colors next to “Animal” represent farm cash receipts in 2020 in the top 5 animal products plus “other”. These data are cash receipts by farmers, which differs for some products from the value of agricultural production in FAO data (eg, value of meat production vs receipts from sale of animals). Clue: the first color in each category is “other”.

Which color corresponds to which product? To see the answer, click here.

For my class, I made the graphs and put them into slides using R markdown. You can use my R markdown code to modify the graphs (eg, choose a different state or show the top 10 instead of top 5).

R markdown code: click here

Slides (pdf): click here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.