What Is Agricultural Production?

Definition & Examples of Agricultural Production

Mushrooms with USDA Agricultural Product Seal
••• MICHAEL LOFENFELD Photography/Contributor/Getty Images

Agricultural production is the use of cultivated plants or animals to produce products for sustaining or enhancing human life. People use a vast array of agricultural products every day—these range from the clothes we wear to the paper we write on. We decorate with flowers often produced by agriculture and run our cars in part on ethanol produced by agriculture.

What Is Agricultural Production?

Agricultural crops turned into products fall into one of four groups: foods, fuels, fibers, or raw materials. Roughly 11% of the planet's land is dedicated to crop production, and close to 26% is being used for animal pastures.

Food

Some examples of food products are grains and cereals. Some of the crops are turned into feed and fed to animals, which then produce dairy products like milk or are turned into food for humans or other animals. Honey and farmed fish are also some examples of food products.

Fuel

Agricultural products can also be used to produce fuel. Ethanol—produced from corn, sugarcane, or sorghum—is the agricultural fuel product in widest use.

Agricultural production byproducts can be used in industrial applications such as textiles or used to reinforce plastics.

Fiber

Fiber crops include cotton (one of the top 10 crops produced in the U.S. every year), wool, and silk. Agricultural producers also use hemp to make rope and flax for linen. It's even possible to use bamboo fiber to make cloth.

Raw Materials

Raw materials are the products not refined or processed for use in one of the other categories. Many of the crops grown are used to feed animals that become other agricultural products.

How Does Agricultural Production Work? 

Land is used to grow crops that have an intended use in one of the four categories. The crops are purchased by businesses that specialize in processing them for their expected purposes and then sold to manufacturers or distributors.

The National Organic Program (NOP)—part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—certifies only agricultural products that fall into a specific, narrow category for use. Examples of agricultural items that the NOP can certify include such things as textiles, flowers, food, seed, plants, and feed. Items intended for other uses are not certified as organic.

The basic guideline for what constitutes an agricultural product is as follows:

Any agricultural commodity or product, whether raw or processed, including any commodity or product derived from livestock, that is marketed in the United States for human or livestock consumption.

Businesses involved in agricultural production include:

  • Breeding operations
  • Farms, including crops and certain animals
  • Greenhouses and nurseries that grow their products to be sold at retail 
  • Ranches
  • Tree and sod farms (if products are sold at retail and not replanted elsewhere by the grower)

Agricultural production does not include:

  • Storing or preserving raw materials before the start of the production process
  • Storing, preserving, handling, or moving finished goods
  • Storing or processing agricultural products at co-ops, grain elevators, dairies, or meatpackers
  • Raising animals for personal use

Agricultural Production Activities

Agricultural production includes these activities:

  • Agriculture: cultivating soil; planting; raising, and harvesting crops; rearing, feeding, and managing animals
  • Aquaculture: raising private aquatic animals (fish)
  • Floriculture: growing flowering plants
  • Horticulture: growing fruits, vegetables, and plants
  • Maple syrup harvesting
  • Silviculture: growing and caring for fresh trees

The NOP does not cover products that are made with nonagricultural substances. Minerals, bacterial cultures, gums, citric acid, pectin, and other items are considered nonagricultural and are widely used in agricultural products that we don't eat.

Nonfood Agricultural Products

The fact that the NOP certifies and oversees only organic agricultural products that are marketed for consumption creates some problems in the organic product marketplace. For example, organic body care products are not always made with 100% agricultural products.

Body care makers using only agricultural ingredients may be certified as officially USDA organic. Because noncertified organic body care products aren't covered under the NOP umbrella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides no oversight for them. Therefore, manufacturers can claim that their products are organic when, in fact, those products may include questionable ingredients.

Key Takeaways

  • Agricultural production is the use of crops and animal products to enhance human life sustainably.
  • The four categories are foods, fuels, fibers, and raw materials.
  • Crops and animal products are used for food, animal feed, and non-food products used by humans.
  • Some non-food product examples are clothing, cleaning products, cosmetics, and energy.

Article Sources

  1. European Space Agency Earth Online. "Agriculture Overview." Accessed June 23, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture Research, Education & Economics System. "Biobased Fibrous Materials and Cleaner Technologies for a Sustainable and Environmentally Responsible Textile Industry." Accessed June 23, 2020.

  3. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, United States Code. "Title 7—Agriculture, Chapter 94, §6502. Definitions." Accessed June 23, 2020.