Of Italy's total land area of 29.4 million ha (72.6 million acres),10.9 million ha (26.9 million acres), or 37.1% of the land, were under annual or permanent crops in 1998. Small, individually owned farms predominate, with the majority three ha (7.4 acres) or less. In 2001, about 5% (1.4 million persons) of the economically active population was in the agricultural sector.
Despite government efforts, the agricultural sector has shown little growth in recent decades. The imports of agricultural products increased from $19.6 billion in 1987 to $20.9 billion in 2001. Italy has to import about half of its meat. The land is well suited for raising fruits and vegetables, both early and late crops, and these are the principal agricultural exports. Although yields per hectare in sugar beets, tomatoes, and other vegetable crops have increased significantly, both plantings and production of wheat declined between 1974 and 1981. Thus, although Italy remains a major cereal-producing country, wheat must be imported. The government controls the supply of domestic wheat and the import of foreign wheat.
Production of major agricultural products in 1999 (in thousands of tons) included sugar beets, 14,100; wheat, 7,743; corn, 9,996; tomatoes, 7,091; oranges, 1,994; potatoes, 2,077; apples, 2,416; barley, 1,329; and rice, 1,362. In 1999, Italy produced 9,732,000 tons of wine grapes, 3,208,000 tons of olives, and 649,000 tons of olive oil. In 1998, Italy had 1,475,000 tractors (third in the world) and 50,450 harvesterthreshers.