Stories | May 1, 2018 | Read Time: 12 minutes
The United Crops of America
The United States has a diverse climate and the ability to grow a wide variety of crops across the country. While American farmers grow a lot of corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton (these crops, called “commodity” or “row” crops, account for over 231 million acres of the almost 392 million acres planted to crops1), they also grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables, from apples to lettuce to cranberries, and everything in between.
We looked at data gathered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discover the top non-commodity crops in each state. Did you know that even though Georgia is called “The Peach State,” its top crop is peanuts? It is tied with Michigan for second place in blueberry production. And it does also grow a lot of peaches, ranking third in the country. And while Illinois battles Iowa for the top spot in corn and soybean production every year, “The Land of Lincoln” also produces the most pumpkins of any state.
Take a trip through the country with our map showing the top non-commodity crop in each state, and check out the list below for some interesting facts. Tour the country through agriculture, and learn where some of your favorite foods are grown. Want more information? At the link following each crop, you’ll find more data from the USDA about the crops grown in each state.
About half of the peanuts grown in the United States are consumed in the form of peanut butter, and about that amount are all grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan, Alabama. Other top crops include pecans and cucumbers.
It might seem like a strange crop to grow in a climate generally thought of as cold but potatoes are one of the easier vegetables to grow and can be farmed in various environmental conditions.
Yuma, Arizona, produces the most lettuce in the state, and farmers there have embraced modern agriculture technology to use water efficiently. Cantaloupe, cabbage, and spinach are also grown in Arizona.
Arkansas is the top rice producer in the U.S., and 96 percent of the 2,500 rice farms are family owned. Arkansas also ranks third for poultry and egg production, and fourth for cotton.
A former trapper from Kentucky planted the first table grape vineyard in the area now known as Los Angeles in 1839. California grew more than 6.6 million tons of grapes in 2017. California’s various climates have made it into the fruit and vegetable basket of the U.S.; over a third of our vegetables and two-thirds of our fruits and nuts are grown there.
At an elevation of 7,600 feet and part of an ancient lake bed, the San Luis Valley in Colorado is the second-largest fresh potato growing region in the U.S. Other top crops include dry beans and sugar beets.
More than 60 varieties of apple are grown in Connecticut, and about 20,000 gallons of maple syrup come from the state each year.
In Sussex County, Delaware, watermelon growers use dozens of retired, yellow school buses to transport their crop from the field to market. Each bus can transport hundreds of watermelons, and are an efficient way to move the fruit.
The sandy soil and subtropical climate of Florida is perfect for growing oranges. Many of today’s trees are descendants of the wild orange trees that spread from St. Augustine to Tampa before the 19th century. Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and peppers are also grown in Florida.
Georgia might be known for its peaches, but that crop actually ranks tenth. The top crop in Georgia is peanuts, followed by watermelons. More than 45 percent of the United States’ peanuts come from the state.
The macadamia nut was introduced to Hawaii in 1881 by a 23-year-old Scottish man, John Macadam, who enjoyed collecting plants. Hawaii produces more macadamia nuts than any other state.
Although potatoes are grown in many states around the U.S., 90 percent of Americans associate potatoes with Idaho more than any other state. Did you know the state also produces a lot of peppermint and spearmint oil?
Illinois grows more pumpkins than any other state. With about 25,000 acres of pumpkins, growers take advantage of the state’s thick, clay soil to harvest about 20 to 23 tons per acre. Illinois ranks second nationwide in production of grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas.
Indiana ranks second in the nation for production of processing tomatoes, which are used for canning and juicing, and in other food products. Indiana also grows melons, pumpkins, and beans.
Inventor and entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye first froze peas in the 1920s, and today, the eponymous vegetable company gets many of their peas from Iowa. Iowa ranks first in the country in the production of grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas.
Junius Groves, proclaimed to be “the first African-American millionaire west of the Mississippi,” amassed his fortune by growing more bushels of potatoes per acre in Kansas than anyone else in the world. The plains of Kansas grow more wheat than any other state.
Louisville, Kentucky, hosts an annual Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular festival, which features 5,000 carved pumpkins that line a quarter-mile walking trail in a local park. It should be no surprise the home of one of the world’s most famous derbies also leads with the number of horses, ponies, mules, burros and donkeys.
Louisiana—sweet potatoes (USDA)
Beauregard sweet potatoes are the variety mostly grown in Louisiana. Yams were used to brew hot drinks when coffee ran low during the Civil War. The state ranks second in the production of sugarcane for sugar.
The Maine Potato Board and the University of Maine have collaborated to introduce new potato varieties, including the Easton for fries and the Sebec for chips. Maine edges out Georgia and Michigan to take first in blueberry production.
Colonial Marylanders used leftover mashed potatoes to make White Potato Pie, a dish with many recipes and family stories. In addition to potatoes, the state produces melons, beans, spinach, and a variety of fruit.
Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran in Dennis, Massachusetts, began the first cultivation of cranberries in 1816, after he observed that wild cranberries grew better with a covering of sand. Over two million barrels of cranberries were harvested in Massachusetts in 2017. Last year, 84,000 gallons of maple syrup came from Massachusetts.
70 percent of the potatoes grown in Minnesota are Russet potatoes, which are commonly used for everything from French fries and hash browns, to baking and mashing. What goes with potatoes on Thanksgiving? The state is the top turkey producer in the country.
Mississippi—sweet potatoes (USDA)
Most of Mississippi’s sweet potato acres are around Vardaman, which hosts an annual week-long celebration called the Sweet Potato Festival. Mississippi also contributes to the peanut supply, producing over 176 million pounds last year.
Missouri grows mostly long-grain rice, and is the fourth largest rice producer in the United States. The state has increased yield over 62 pounds per acre per year since the 1950s. Melons, peaches, and grapes are also grown in Missouri.
Lentils are a pulse crop, which means they are versatile, drought-tolerant, and frost-hardy. They can be effectively used as a cover crop, and farmers in Montana have reduced the amount of land left fallow by planting lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes.
In 1945, Nebraska enacted a law that requires people shipping over 180,000 pounds of potatoes annually to hold a license, and to pay a tax for every 100 pounds of potatoes they ship. The state also produces beans, sunflowers, and peas.
The University of Nevada Reno is studying how to prevent loss during the storage of potatoes, a top five crop for the state. Almost six million acres of land are farmed/ranched in Nevada.
New Hampshire—apples (USDA)
The Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, is the state’s oldest apple orchard. The first apple tree was planted there in 1913, and the farm now has over 20,000 trees. The state produced 154,000 gallons of maple syrup last year.
New Jersey—tomatoes (USDA)
Folklore says that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a basket of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem County Courthouse to convince locals that the fruit wasn’t poisonous, as was commonly thought in 1820. Thousands gathered to watch his demise, and instead learned the truth about tomatoes.
New Mexico—chile peppers (USDA)
The state calls itself the “Chile Capital of the World,” and the title is so popular that New Mexico has already issued over 2,000 license plates commemorating the moniker. New Mexico also produces a lot of peanuts and pecans.
New York—potatoes (USDA)
The Empire State Potato Growers organization provides an annual college scholarship for undergraduate students residing in New York who are pursuing careers in agriculture. Last year, the state also produced 1.2 billion pounds of apples and 9 million pounds of tart cherries.
North Carolina—sweet potatoes (USDA)
North Carolina has been the leading sweet potato producing state in the US since 1971. Over 400 growers supply nearly 60 percent of the US supply. North Carolina also produces tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, melons, pumpkins, and much more.
North Dakota—dry, edible beans (USDA)
Dry, edible beans are a nutritious food staple with a soluble dietary fiber that averages 20 percent over oat bran. A wide variety of beans are raised in North Dakota, including kidney, navy, pinto, red, black turtle, pink, and cranberry beans.
In 2009, Ohio designated the tomato as its state fruit, and tomato juice has been the official state beverage since 1965. The state produced 80,000 gallons of maple syrup last year, nearly as much as Massachusetts.
Most of Oklahoma’s peanuts are grown in the southwest and south central part of the state, and producers raise between 50 and 70 million pounds each year. It’s arid in Oklahoma, so nearly 2/3 of the peanut crops are irrigated.
Surplus Oregon potatoes went to California by mule train during the gold rush, fetching $500 for four bushels in San Francisco. Today, Oregon ranks first in the nation for cut Christmas trees and short rotation woody crops.
All 67 counties in Pennsylvania contribute to the state’s approximately 11 million bushels of apples grown each year. While many people think of California as grape country, Pennsylvania produced 91,000 tons of grapes last year.
Rhode Island—potatoes (USDA)
Rhode-Island based toy company Hasbro introduced Mr. Potato Head in 1952, and that state recently named the toy its “official family-travel ambassador.” There are themed Mr. Potato Head statues distributed around the state.
South Carolina—peanuts (USDA)
The official snack of South Carolina is boiled peanuts, which are celebrated at the annual Bluffton Boiled Peanut Festival every September. The state also produces a lot of watermelons and cantaloupes.
East Nashville hosts the Tomato Art Fest every year, to celebrate the fruit. Fairgoers dress in tomato gear and participate in a parade and cooking demonstrations. The state also produces snap beans and pumpkins.
Eighteen counties in the upper Gulf Coast of Texas comprise the Texas Rice Belt, and agriculture has a direct impact on the ecosystems of five the state’s seven river basins. Texas Rice Industry Coalition for the Environment (R.I.C.E.) is a group of rice farmers focused on sustaining natural resources while working in harmony with the environment.
Vermont—maple syrup (USDA)
In 2017, trees in Vermont produced more maple syrup than in any other state, accounting for nearly 2 million gallons, or 46 percent of the country’s production. Vermont also produced 30 million pounds of apples.
Virginia offers 15 different apple varieties, including the Ginger Gold cultivar, which was first bred and introduced in Virginia in the 1960s. The state also produces apples, peaches, grapes, pumpkins, and potatoes.
Washington’s climate, rich volcanic soil, abundant water, and long growing season results in the highest potato yield per acre, which means the state produces 20 percent of all potatoes in the U.S. Washington ranks first in the country for aquaculture (aquatic animals and aquatic plants raised for food) production.
In 2017 the state produced more than 5.6 million barrels of cranberries, over 60 percent of the country’s crop. Wisconsin also produces tart cherries, apples, pumpkins, carrots snap beans, and green peas.