In 1998, 52% of the land (4,820,000 ha/11,910,000 acres) was arable. More than half of Hungary's area lies in the Great Plain; although the soil is fertile, most of the region lacks adequate rainfall and is prone to droughts, requiring extensive irrigation. In 1997, some 210,000 hectares (519,000 acres) of land were irrigated. In 2001, agriculture contributed 4% to GDP.
Before World War II (1939–45), Hungary was a country of large landed estates and landless and land-poor peasants. In the land reform of 1945, about 35% of the land area was distributed, 1.9 million hectares (4.7 million acres) among 640,000 families and 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) in state farms. In 1949, the government adopted a policy of collectivization based on the Soviet kolkhoz, and by the end of 1952, 5,110 collectives, many forcibly organized, controlled 22.6% of total arable land. Peasant resentment led to a policy change in 1953, and many collectives were dissolved, but the regime returned to its previous policy in 1955. As a result of the 1956 uprising, collectives were again dissolved; but a new collectivization drive begun in 1959 was essentially completed by 1961. Meanwhile, the proportion of the economically active population employed in agriculture decreased steadily. In 1949, agricultural employees accounted for55.1% of the total labor force; in 1999, agriculture accounted for11.1% of the engaged labor force. In 2001, Hungary had an agricultural trade surplus of $1.3 billion.
Hungary has achieved self sufficiency in temperate zone crops, and exports about one-third of all produce, especially fruit and preserved vegetables. The traditional agricultural crops have been cereals, with wheat, corn (maize), and rye grown on more than half the total sown area. In recent years, considerable progress has been made in industrial crops, especially oilseeds and sugar beets. Fruit production (especially for preserves) and viticulture are also significant; the wine output in 1999 was 434,000 tons. That year, over 720,000 tons of grapes were produced on 99,000 hectares (245,000 acres).
The principal field crop harvest 1999 was, in tons per hectares (acres) harvested: corn, 7,109,000 per 1,120,000 ha (2,767,000 ac); wheat, 2,637,000 per 734,000 ha (1,814,000 ac); sugar beets, 2,901,000 per 66,000 ha (163,000 ac); potatoes, 1,035,000 per 56,000 ha (138,000 ac); rye, 81,000 per 39,000 ha (96,000 ac).