Agriculture's role in the economy continues to decrease. In 1999, about 2% of the employed population worked on farms, compared with 3.7% in 1973. Agriculture's share in the GNP fell from 3.8% in 1973 to about 1.5% in 2001. Many marginal farms have disappeared; the remaining farms are small but intensively cultivated. Average farm size grew from 6.17 hectares (15.2 acres) in 1959 to 18.78 hectares (46.4 acres) in 1995, when there were 72,865 farms (down from 269,060 in 1959). About 80% of the country's food needs are covered domestically. The richest farm areas are in Flanders and Brabant. About 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres), or 45% of Belgium's total area, are under cultivation. Over half the land cultivated is used for pastureland or green fodder; one-quarter is used for the production of cereals. Total production of grains in 1999 was around 2.3 million tons, of which wheat accounted for about 65%; barley, 16%; corn, 11%; and spelt, triticale, oats, rye, and other grains, 8%.
Government price policy encourages increased production of wheat and barley with decreasing production of rye and oats. Increased emphasis is being placed on horticulture, and nearly all fruits found in temperate climates are grown in Belgium. Chief among these are apples, pears, and cherries. Producers of tomatoes and apples were obliged to refrain from marketing part of their 1992 harvests in order to hold up prices.
Belgium imports considerable quantities of bread and feed grains, fodder concentrates, and fruits. Its only agricultural exports are processed foods and a few specialty items such as endive, chicory, flower bulbs, sugar, and chocolates. In 2001, agricultural products amounted to 9.6% of exports; there was an agricultural trade surplus of $2.6 billion that year.