In 2001, agriculture engaged 28% of the Polish labor force (as compared with 53.5% in 1948 and 39.9% in 1967). About 62% of Poland's land is agricultural; of this area, 78% is cultivated. Overall agricultural output during 1980–90 fell by nearly 0.4% annually. Between 1990 and 2000, agricultural production dropped by 0.2% annually. In 2001, agriculture accounted for 4% of GDP, down from 14.5% in 1985.
The transition from an agricultural economy is due partly to territorial changes resulting from World War II (1939–45); largely agricultural areas were transferred to the USSR, whereas the areas acquired in the west were predominantly industrial. During the war, approximately one-third of the Polish farms were completely or partly laid waste, and five-sixths of the hogs and two-thirds of the cattle and sheep were destroyed, leaving farmers almost without draft animals and fertilizer. At the same time, population transfers delayed cultivation in the areas of resettlement.
Land redistribution followed both world wars but was much more extensive after World War II. A 1944 decree expropriated all holdings larger than 100 ha (247 acres); land belonging to Germans or collaborators was also expropriated. Attempts at collectivization were generally resisted; after 1956, most collective farms were disbanded and their land redistributed. During the 1990s, about 3.7 million Poles were engaged in small plot farming (with an average farm size of 6 ha/15 acres) on 2.1 million private farms, which produced about 75% of agricultural output.
In 1999, principal crops and their estimated yields (in thousands of tons) were potatoes, 19,927; sugar beets, 12,554; wheat, 9,051; rye, 5,181; barley, 3,401; and oats, 1,446. Yields have been poor because of infertile soil, insufficient use of fertilizers, and inadequate mechanization, in addition to the drought. There were 1,310,500 tractors in 1997, up from 620,724 during 1979–81. Although grain production has been Poland's traditional agricultural pursuit, since World War II, Poland has become an importer— instead of an exporter—of grains, particularly wheat.
Poland grows an assortment of fruits and vegetables. Fruit and berry yields (in thousands of tons) for 1999 included: apples, 1,604; currants, 153; strawberries, 178; raspberries, 43; plums, 91; and pears, 67. Field vegetable production in 1999 (in thousands of tons) included: cabbage, 1,709, carrots, 906; onions, 688; cucumbers, 400; cauliflower, 225; and tomatoes, 333.