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American Agriculture: Shrinking but More Productive

I’m Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A listener in Burkina Faso named Irisso wants to know the place that agriculture occupies in the United States economy. The answer might be surprising.

The United States has the largest economy in the world. The size of an economy is usually described in terms of the Gross Domestic Product. The Gross Domestic Product, or G.D.P., is the value of all goods and services produced in a country in a year.

In two thousand four, the United States had a G.D.P. estimated at close to twelve million million dollars. What percentage of that was agriculture? The government says just nine-tenths of one percent.

Farm workers make up an even smaller percentage of American labor: seven-tenths of one percent.

So what is the Gross Domestic Product mainly a product of these days? In two thousand four, almost twenty percent came from industry -- and almost eighty percent came from services.

The number of farms continues to decrease in America. The Census Bureau counted a little more than two million farms in two thousand four. About half of those farms had less than forty hectares.

Still, farm earnings have risen to record levels in recent years. Agricultural productivity continues to increase because of new technology and methods. But the Agriculture Department estimates that nine percent of farm income last year came from government payments. That number is expected to decrease in the future.

Exports have provided American farmers with an average of about twenty-five percent of their money for the last fifteen years. What is the top export by value? Soybeans.

Canada and Mexico are two of the three biggest markets for American farmers. In fact, in two thousand two, Canada replaced Japan for the first time as the top buyer of American agricultural exports.

The Department of Agriculture says exports to the European Union are slowing. But exports to other countries within the Americas and to Asia are growing.

The United States has traditionally enjoyed an agricultural trade surplus. But that surplus has been eaten away as the United States imports more and more food.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. If you have a question, send it to We cannot answer mail personally, but we might be able to answer your question on our program. I'm Faith Lapidus.