About 29.2 million hectares (64.6 million acres), or 38% of Turkey's total land area, are considered arable; in any given year, about two-thirds of arable land is under crops, and one-third is fallow. Little uncultivated arable land remains. The average holding is not more than four or five hectares (10–12 acres). Dry grain farming—in which half the land must lie fallow each year— offers little more than a subsistence standard of living. About 40% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, which provided 13% of GDP in 2001. Large farms are concentrated mainly in the Konya, Adana, and Izmir regions. Agricultural methods still tend to be primitive, but modern machinery has been introduced. Much new land has been brought under cultivation since World War II (1939–45), and the increased use of chemical fertilizers and expansion of irrigated lands have increased yields per acre overall. In 1998, about 16% of all arable land was irrigated. Nevertheless, crop yields are still extremely sensitive to variations in rainfall. In good crop years, Turkey exports cereals, but in drought years, it must import them.
About 90% of the cultivated area is devoted to cereals. Wheat is the principal crop, accounting for 59% of total grain production in 1999; 18,000,000 tons of wheat were grown in that year, followed by barley with 9,000,000 tons. Turkey also produced 20,000,000 tons of sugar beets and about 3,650,000 tons of grapes. Other agricultural products were grown in lesser but still important quantities in 1999: maize, 2,400,000 tons; sunflower seeds, 860,000 tons; cotton, 802,000 tons; and oranges, 830,000 tons.
Turkish tobacco is world famous for its lightness and mildness. Most of the crop is grown in the Aegean region, but the finest tobacco is grown around Samsun, on the Black Sea coast. Tobacco and tobacco products represented 11% of total agricultural exports in 2001 and 1.4% of all Turkish exports that same year. Some 262,000 tons of tobacco were produced in 1999. Most of the cotton crop is grown around Adana and Izmir. Other crops of commercial importance include olives (1,650,000 tons in 1999), tea (120,000 tons), fruits, nuts, and vegetable oil. Turkey usually leads the world in the production and export of hazelnuts (about 580,000 tons produced in 1999) and ranks after Iran and the United States in pistachio nuts (40,000 tons).
The government stimulates production through crop subsidies, low taxation, price supports, easy farm credit, research and education programs, and the establishment of model farms. The government also controls the conditions under which farm products can move into world markets. For some products, such as grain, the government is the sole exporter. Turkey has recently begun exporting vegetables and fruits abroad, which has affected domestic market prices. Cotton and tobacco production levels are increasing as demands by the textile and cigarette industries have risen.
Turkey is one of seven countries authorized under the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs to grow opium poppies for legitimate pharmaceutical purposes. In June 1971, after persistent US complaints that up to 80% of all opiates smuggled into the United States were derived from Turkish poppies, the Turkish government banned poppy growing; however, after efforts to find substitute crops failed, the government decided to rescind the ban on 1 July 1974. Areas authorized for poppy cultivation were estimated at 37,500 hectares (92,700 acres) in 1983; 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of opium capsule were sown in 1985. Government steps to curtail illegal cultivation, refining, and export of opiates were reportedly successful; in fact, Turkey has been one of the few opium-growing countries to crack down hard on drug smuggling.