With almost 30% of the total land area suitable for crop production and about 17% of the labor force engaged in farming, agriculture remains the primary occupation, accounting for 11% of GDP in 2001. Value of agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 7.1% during 1968–73, but since 1975 the sector has been hampered by droughts (1975, 1977, and 1979), hurricanes (in 1979 and 1980), and slumping world prices and quota allocations for sugar (since 1985). In 1999, agricultural production was 0.4% higher than during 1989–91. The fertile Cibao Valley is the main agricultural center. In 1998, arable land totaled 1,020,000 hectares (2,520,000 acres); with land under permanent crops at 480,000 hectares (1,186,000 acres).
After Cuba, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean producer of sugarcane, the nation's most important commercial crop. The State Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal de Azúcar—CEA) operates 12 sugar mills and accounts for more than half of total production. Other large producers are the privately owned Vicini, with three mills, and Gulf and Western, whose largest mill is at La Romana. In 1999, sugar production was 4.4 million tons, down from an average of 7.1 million tons during 1989–1991. Output of sugar has declined annually since 1982, and land is gradually being taken out of sugar production and switched to food crops. Production of raw sugar rose from 636,000 tons in 1990 to 813,000 tons in 1997 but fell to 374,000 tons in 1999. The Dominican Republic has the largest single allocation of the US sugar import quota.
Another leading cash crop is coffee. Part of the crop was destroyed by hurricanes in 1979 and 1980, and 1979–80 production was only 670,000 bags (40,200 tons). Although production was usually about 57,000–59,000 tons annually in the 1980s, the acreage harvested declined from 157,000 hectares (388,000 acres) in the early 1980s to 139,000 hectares (363,000 acres) in 1999, indicating a greater yield per acre. Coffee production in 1999 was estimated at 35,000 tons; exports of coffee in 2001 generated $11 million. Cocoa and tobacco are also grown for export. In 1999, production of cocoa beans was 26,000 tons and of tobacco, 35,000 tons. Banana production in 1999 was 432,000 tons. Production of other crops in 1999 (in thousands of tons) included rice, 563; coconuts, 184; cassava, 127; tomatoes, 281; pulses, 69; dry beans, 26; eggplants, seven; and peanuts, two.
Under a land reform program initiated in 1962, a total of 178,602 hectares (441,333 acres) had been distributed to 36,480 farmers by the end of 1977. The government encourages fuller use of the nation's arable land through extensive land-clearing and irrigation projects and diversification of crops. Some mechanization has taken place on the large plantations, but primitive techniques are generally used. In 1973, the first stage of the Integrated Agricultural and Livestock Development Plan was initiated, calling for an investment of $38.1 million, to be financed by the IDB. The plan was designed to provide credit and technical aid to 45,000 small farmers, improve side roads, and study the country's water resources. The second stage of the plan, in the early 1980s, included extension of farm credits, reforestation, manpower training for irrigation projects, and reorganization of the Dominican Agrarian Institute.
Agricultural exports, mostly in the form of sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, and cigars generated $533.6 million in 2001, or 67.1% of total exports. The government and private sector are emphasizing diversification to nontraditional agricultural crops such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers.