While food is one of the most fundamental economic products, only a handful of countries actually excel in agricultural production. Most agricultural commodities require a lot of land area, and land area is something only the largest countries have in abundance. In fact, four of the world's dominant food-producing countries—China, India, the U.S., and Brazil—also rank in the top ten countries in the world for total geographic land area.

The U.S. has long been a superpower in food markets, and it is still one of the world's largest food exporters. While China and India are also large food producers, they tend to consume much more of their own food products. (China and India also have the world's largest populations.)

Key Takeaways

  • Four of the world's dominant food-producing countries—China, India, the U.S., and Brazil—also rank in the top ten countries in the world for total geographic land area.
  • The U.S. has long been a superpower in food markets, and it is still one of the world's largest food exporters.
  • China and India are also large food producers, but they tend to consume much more of their own food products.


Brazil
is also a large food producer; its food industry tilts heavily towards sugarcane, soybeans, and beef. While Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of land area—and is home to the ninth-largest population in the world—it is not one of the dominant food-producing countries.  This is partly because of Russia's harsh northern climate: a large percentage of the country's territory is neither farmable nor pasturable. In addition, historically, Russia's farms have been relatively low-output.

China

It is no surprise that China is one of the world's biggest producer, importer, and consumer of food products. While much of China's land is too mountainous or too arid for farming, the rich soils of the eastern and southern regions are extremely productive.

China also has one of the world's largest workforce; some sources estimate that their workforce specifically for food production may be as high as 315 million laborers. (To put this number in perspective, the U.S. is the world's third most populous country with 328.2 million people, as of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

China is one of the most prolific producers of an impressive list of foods:

  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • Potatoes, lettuce, onions, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, eggplant, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pumpkins
  • Pears, grapes, apples, peaches, plums, and watermelons
  • Sheep milk
  • Chicken, pork, lamb, goat, and fish
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Honey 

India

While India is one of the largest food producers in the world, its farm productivity is far lower than in China, the U.S., or Brazil.

In addition, many of India's citizens are too poor to purchase the food it produces. There have been major strides in this century as the Indian economy emerges, but many experts worry the Indian population is growing faster than the economy.

In 2019, the World Bank estimated that India's population was around 1.37 billion people. The country also has a very high birth rate and is projected to eclipse China as the world's largest population at some point in the future.

The United States

The U.S. has one of the most efficient food production systems. Despite having a significantly smaller workforce than China, total U.S. agricultural production is almost as high as China's.

Food production is spread across much of the country, but the largest food-producing states in 2018, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.), were as follows:

  • California
  • Iowa
  • Texas
  • Nebraska
  • Minnesota
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • North Carolina
  • Wisconsin
  • Indiana

Many American companies dominate the food export market, which is, in part, due to an increasingly productive farming sector. The top export destinations of food produced in the U.S. include: 

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • China
  • Japan
  • Germany 

The most popular exports from the United States are maize, soybeans and wheat. Other common exports include almonds, cotton, potatoes, and chicken. 

Brazil

The Brazilian economy has historically centered on agriculture, in particular sugarcane. And approximately 34% of Brazil's total land area is used as cropland, primarily to produce coffee, sugarcane, soybeans, and corn.  

Brazil is also a major producer of oranges, pineapples, papaya, and coconuts (thanks to its warm, fruit-friendly climate). The country also ranks high in total beef output.

The Bottom Line

There are many factors that influence the level of food production in a country, including the climate, the types of naturally-occurring and cultivated vegetation, and the viability of the country's overall economy. While the U.S. is generally recognized as the top exporter of food, food products are not the most-exported products of the U.S. In most years, the U.S. exports a higher volume of consumer goods (cars, appliances, etc.), capital goods (used to produce goods and services), machinery, and transportation.