Agriculture is one of the most important industries in the world and an essential sector in economic growth, but it is being affected by factors such as climate change, more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ukraine-Russia war. This fact creates uncertainty about the future of food production. This article presents the newest data on agricultural production to shed some light on where our food comes from and which countries trade most of it.

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.

Where Does Our Food Come From?

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, the newest data on agricultural production was analyzed and ranked. The findings are compiled on the current state of agricultural production and trade.

Top most commonly produced agricultural commodities worldwide

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 is 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.”

The six most commonly produced agricultural commodities worldwide are cow milk, sugar cane, corn, wheat, rice paddy, and potatoes, below is the detail of the top three of them.

1.Cow milk

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.

2.Sugar cane

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 sugar cane 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, Egypt, and Kenya being the primary producers.

3.The Corn

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 thirdlargest 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.

Where Are the Most Commodities Produced in the World?

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 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.

The seven largest global agricultural producers are: China, the United States, Russia, Brazil, India, Spain, and Ukraine, below are listed the top three of them.


China is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, with agricultural production of $1.1 trillion in 2020—a record high. 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); it also ranks as the second-largest producer in the world for Corn, Chicken, Bananas, and Rapeseed.

2.The United States

In 2020 the US agricultural production accounted for $134.7 billion, about 0.6% of its national GDP. It was the world’s largest producer of corn (360.2 million tons), harvesting about one-third of global production in 2020.

It also produces over half of the global almond output and one-third of global blueberry production.

Where Does Our Food Come From?

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), and the second-largest producer in the world of soybeans, sugar beet, pig meat, and apples.


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. 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.

What Are the Most Exported Agricultural Commodities Worldwide?

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, there is 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.

“Today, some of the most exported agricultural goods are wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, barley, rapeseed, palm oil, sunflower seeds, and bananas.”

Leading countries in the global export of commodities 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 their 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. Below are listed the four leading countries in the global export of commodities.

1.The United States

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 its democracy index (0.811), meaning that it is less risky for countries to rely on trade with this country.

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 and $6.3 billion, respectively, of total value agricultural exports.

Other highly exported agricultural goods in 2020 include: rice chicken meat, sorghum, and apples.

2.The Netherlands

In 2020 the 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, it 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, it now ranks as the world’s third-largest exporter of rapeseed, palm oil, avocados and chilies, and peppers.


In 2020 Brazil exported over 82.9 million tons of soybeans or about half of the global soy beans 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. Also, it ranked as the second-largest exporter of rice (518.4 thousand tons) and the third-largest exporter of mangoes (243.4 million tons).


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.”

Also, it is notable for fruits and vegetables. 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.

Wrapping Up

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.

This is a summarized version developed by the editorial team of Aquaculture Magazine based on the review article titled “WHERE DOES OUR FOOD COME FROM? THE LARGEST AGRI PRODUCERS AND EXPORTERS” developed by UNIVERSITY OF THE POTOMAC.
The original article was published in UNIVERSITY OF THE POTOMAC.
The full version can be accessed freely online through this link


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