In 1998, Kazakhstan had an estimated 30,135,000 ha (74,464,000 acres) of arable land, representing 11.3% of the total land area. Most cropland is found in the northern steppes, where the failed Virgin and Idle Land Project of the 1950s occurred. Small-scale privatization resulted in the formation of 31,055 private farms by 1995, up from 3,333 in 1991. The average peasant farm size in 1995 was 428 ha (1,058 acres). Between 1990 and 2000, annual agricultural output fell an average of 7.9%.
Potatoes, fruits, and vegetables are other significant food crops. Less than 2% of agricultural land is used to cultivate commercial crops such as cotton, sugar beets, sunflowers, and flax. Kazakhstan is the only former Soviet republic that exports grain. Wheat accounted for 29% of all sown acreage in 1999. Wheat production declined from 18,285,000 tons in 1992 to 11,242,000 tons in 1999. Similarly, barley production fell from 8,511,000 tons to 2,265,000 tons during that time. Rice is produced in irrigated stretches along the Syrdar'ya near Qyzlorda and around Taldyqorghan in the east. Production amounted to 199,000 tons in 1999.
During the Soviet period, groundwater resources and chemical fertilizers were overused, resulting in depleted soils, decreasing yields, and environmental pollution.