In this guide, we look at what the most important agricultural foods and crops in the world might be according to different metrics.
We look at metrics such as the most energy provided to the world population via consumption, the most produced (in terms of quantity), the crops that take up the most cropland, the most valuable in terms of USD (most economic value), and more.
By looking at these metrics and others, we might be able to get a better idea of what the most important and popular agricultural products in the world might be.
Summary – Most Important & Popular Foods & Crops In The World
Foods That Provide The Most Energy For The Global Population
– All Foods
There are 15 plant crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake (exclusive of meat), with rice, maize (corn), and wheat comprising 2/3 of human food consumption.
– Plant Based Foods & Crops Only
Rice, corn and wheat are the three are the staples of about 80 percent of the world population, and rice feeds almost half of humanity (wikipedia.org)
Most Produced Crops Worldwide
In terms of metric tonnes produced, the most produced crops in 2012 were maize (corn), rice and wheat.
They were produced mostly in the US and China.
Most Square Area Of Cropland Used Worldwide
Wheat, maize (corn), rice and barley are some of the crops that take up the most square area of crop land in the world
Economic Value – USD
Rice paddy, cattle meat, pig meat and whole cow’s milk are the most valuable agricultural products worldwide in 2012 – based purely on US economic dollar value
Countries That Produce The Most Food
There’s several ways to measure which countries produce the most agricultural products – per tonne, per calorie, per gram of protein, per serving produced, and so on
The United States, China, Russia, and India feature heavily among many food product production rankings.
African countries, Brazil and Turkey also feature prominently.
– Health & Nutrition
We did not take into account health and nutrition of different foods and agricultural products in this guide.
This is an important, but separate consideration to take into account.
– Environmental & Resource Sustainability
Being aware of these foods can also be helpful for when looking at sustainability issues such as the use of GMO crops and foods, water used to produce foods and crops, pesticide and synthetic fertilizer used to produce crops and food, and more
Main Types Of Agricultural Food Products
First, it’s helpful to outline the main types of agricultural food products by category.
Broad categories of agricultural food products and also crops might be:
*There’s also the non food products like fibers and forest products.
Foods That Provide The Most Of The World’s Energy & Protein
… it is estimated that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity found in agricultural crops has been lost over the last century …
… today, 90% of our food energy and protein comes from only 15 plant and 8 animal species, with disturbing consequences for nutrition and food security.
Plant Based Foods & Crops That Provide The Most Of The World’s Energy
Wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than 50% of the global plant-based energy intake.
Just 15 plant crops provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake (exclusive of meat), with rice, maize (corn), and wheat comprising 2/3 of human food consumption.
These three are the staples of about 80 percent of the world population, and rice feeds almost half of humanity.
[there are three edible plants that] provide 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake [and those are rice, maize and wheat] (fao.org)
Main Staple Foods In The Average Diet
The main staple foods in the average diet in different countries and continents differs.
For example, fao.org outlines the average African and Western European diets and their compositions, and they are both different.
As just one example of that difference in composition, only 7% of the average African diet is animal products, compared to 33% for Western Europe.
For clarity, fao.org defines staple foods as ‘the dominant part of the diet and supply a major proportion of energy and nutrient needs’
This diet composition could change with time though, as other research shows that as countries become more wealthy, they tend to consume more animal products and meat.
Most Produced Plant Based Foods & Crops
Ten important staple foods ranked by global importance and their annual global production from 2012, and the country who produced the most in brackets are:
Maize (corn) – 873 million (metric tons produced globally in 2012) (United States)
Rice – 738 million (China)
Wheat – 671 million (China)
Potatoes – 365 million (China)
Cassava – 269 million (Nigeria)
Soybeans – 241 million (United States)
Sweet Potatoes – 108 million (China)
Yams – 59.5 million (Nigeria)
Sorghum – 57.0 million (United States)
Plantain – 37.2 million (Uganda)
Most Valuable Crops & Livestock (In US Dollars)
[Globally in 2012, these food and drink products ranked as the most valuable in US billions of dollars (in order):]
Rice, paddy – $337 (US billions of dollars of global value in 2012) (Mainland China)
Cattle, meat – $336B US (United States)
Pig, meat – $306B US (Mainland China)
Cows Milk, whole, fresh – $286B US (United States)
Chicken, meat – $128B US (United States)
[In order, Wheat, Soybeans, Tomato, Sugarcane, Maize (corn), Eggs, in shell, Potato, and Vegetables (not elsewhere specified), followed.]
[Mainland China and the United States are among the biggest producers.]
You can read the wikipedia.org resource for the full list
Crops That Take Up The Most Land (In Square Area) Worldwide
agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com has a table that shows the 18 major crop categories, their total square area (in km2) of land they take up worldwide, and what that square area is as a relative fraction amongst all 18 major crops.
The top 6 crops in order are:
Wheat – 4028 (1000’s of km squared), and 22% of all cropland as a relative fraction
Maize – 2271km2, and 13%
Rice – 1956km2, and 11%
Barley – 1580km2, and 9%
Soybeans – 927km2, and 5%
Pulses – 794km2, and 4%
In order, the other crops (in order after pulses from most land to least were) Cotton, Potatoes, Sorghum, Millet, Sunflower, Rye, Rapeseed/canola, Sugar cane, Groundnuts/peanuts, Cassava, Sugar beets, and Oil palm fruit
Total cropland of the major 18 crops was 15,256 (85%)
Other crops not listed equated to 2664 (15%)
All cropland equated to 17,920km2
You can also read about the geographical distribution of these crops around the world in terms of what countries they are found in the agupubs resource
Top Producing Countries In Agriculture
There’s several ways you might classify a top agricultural producing country such as:
Total tonnage of food produced
Total value of food produced
The production efficiency or yield of the country
You also have to look at agricultural production by individual crops, as some countries grow some crops or food products much better than others due to things like climate, conditions, land, resources etc.
The United States, China, Russia, and India certainly do feature heavily though among many food product production rankings. African countries, Brazil and Turkey also feature prominently.
Some resources for reading about the top agricultural producing countries are:
Top agricultural producing countries (investopedia.com)