In 1998, the total arable land area covered 4,511,000 ha (11,150,000 ac), of which 4,312,000 ha (10,650,000 ac) were seasonal crops and 199,000 ha (492,000 ac) were permanent crops. The average annual agricultural growth rate was –2.1% for 1980–90 and –0.4% for 1990–2000. By 2000, agricultural output was only two-thirds of what it was in 1990. In 2000, agriculture accounted for 15% of GDP. That year agriculture (including fishing and forestry) engaged about 7.5% of the economically active population.
Collectivized agriculture became the norm under the Communist government after 1958. In March 1991, the government adopted a land law which restored ownership rights to former owners of expropriated land. These owners were to receive 20–30 ha (49–74 ac) each of land approximating the type and location of the former holdings, regardless of whether or not the owner cultivates that land. After February 1991, full price liberalization for producers and consumers was to occur. However, the agricultural sector was still shrinking due to the lack of progress in the implementation of privatization and property restitution. A grain crisis developed when Bulgaria exported a million tons of wheat in 1995. Currency depreciations, increased taxes, and lack of funds exacerbated the disintegration of the agricultural sector in the mid-1990s.
The principal grain-growing areas are the Danube tableland and southern Dobrudja. The production of major crops in 1999 (in thousands of tons) was wheat, 3,000; corn, 1,100; barley, 700; sunflower seeds, 500; and soybeans, 5.
Bulgaria is a major supplier of grapes, apples, and tomatoes to Europe and the former Soviet Union. Potatoes and paprika are also important crops. Production in 1999 included (in thousands of tons): grapes, 550; apples, 150; tomatoes, 490; and potatoes, 478. About 52,000 tons of tobacco were also produced that year.
Machinery available to agriculture has increased significantly. Tractors rose from 25,800 units in 1960 to 53,800 units in 1985, before falling to 25,000 in 1998; combines increased from 7,000 to 16,000 in 1985, but by 1998 numbered only 5,500 in use. About 18% of the cultivated area is irrigated.