Agricultural Overview - Commodities

Field Crops

Tobacco Tobacco has historically been the major cash crop in North Carolina and remains one of the state's most predominant farm commodities. North Carolina produces almost three-quarters of the flue-cured tobacco grown in the United States. In 1939, the State harvested the record high number of acres of 851,000 acres.
Tobacco remains one of North Carolina's most profitable crops and a substantial contributor to the value of farm production. Increased pressure on tobacco and the removal of the tobacco quota system will continue to prompt Tar Heel farmers to diversify and seek alternative crops.
Cotton Cotton was once "king" in North Carolina, and until 1919 the value of cotton exceeded all other commodities in the state. Cotton acreage planted reached a high of 1.8 million acres in 1926. In 1978, cotton acreage reached a low of only 42,000 acres. Insect problems and the increase of synthetic fibers contributed to the decline of cotton. The boll weevil was the major pest affecting the decline of cotton production. North Carolina initiated an intensive effort to eradicate the boll weevil, and in 1987 the boll weevil was formally eradicated. The eradication of the boll weevil and increased world demand for cotton renewed interest in cotton production in North Carolina.    

Soybeans became an important crop in North Carolina around 1924 when about 75,000 acres were harvested. Acreage peaked in 1982 with 2.1 million acres. With the increased demand for bio-fuels and livestock feed rations, soybeans remain an important commodity in the State.

Corn Corn has been produced in most of North Carolina throughout history.  Estimates of production started in 1866, when 1.675 million acres were planted with an average yield of only 9.5 bushels per acre. Corn acreage peaked in 1899 with 2.72 million acres planted, and has continued to decrease since that date. North Carolina's livestock industry uses more corn than is produced in the state. Therefore, livestock producers import corn from surrounding and Midwest states.

North Carolina peanut farmers produce some of the best peanuts in the world, ranking first in the production of the large kernel Virginia-type cocktail peanut. The vast majority of peanuts in North Carolina are raised in the northeast and southeast areas of the State. The State harvested the peak number of acres in 1945 with 320,000 acres.  Most of North Carolina's peanuts are consumed "out-of-hand," as cocktail peanuts, instead of crushed into peanut butter or incorporated into candies. Peanuts are one of the most significant agricultural crops in North Carolina



The wheat produced in North Carolina is winter wheat. Unlike most crops, wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in June. This allows farmers to plant another crop on the same acreage after the wheat has been harvested. The process of growing two crops on the same acreage is referred to as "double cropping". The second crop to follow wheat is usually soybeans. Wheat is also used as a cover crop for acreage intended for tobacco. The cover crop protects the soil from erosion throughout the winter, and then is plowed under providing nutrients for the tobacco crop.
Wheat acreage harvested for grain peaked in 1901 with 800,000 acres harvested and dropped to a low of 165,000 acres in 1966. With double cropping becoming an important farming activity around 1980, wheat acreage harvested for grain increased to 400,000 acres.




Hogs & pigs have historically been an important part of North Carolina agriculture. The industry has changed dramatically since the 1980's from the small farm raising a few hogs to large confinement type operations. North Carolina leads the country in this structural shift towards larger size farms, and the coordination between producers and processors. This shift is apparent when reviewing the number and size of operations.

In 1986, the state had 15,000 hog farms. Of these operations, 13,000 had less than 100 hogs and pigs, and only 800 operations had more than 500 hogs and pigs. Total hog inventory was 2.4 million head. By 2000, the total operations with hogs and pigs had decreased to 3,600. Operations that had less than 100 head controlled less than 1 percent of the total inventory of 9.6 million head. The 1,500 operations with more than 1,000 hogs controlled nearly 99 percent of the inventory, nearly 9.5 million of the June 1, 2000 total inventory.


North Carolina's number of cattle & calves on farms has remained relatively stable throughout time. The northern mountain and northern piedmont counties have traditionally raised the most cattle and remains the leading cattle producing area of the state.

Milk cow inventory and milk production have continued to decline in the State. Milk production reached a record high in 1985 with 1.748 billion pounds produced. The number of milk cows on farms was a record high 384,000 head in 1944



chickens With the ever increasing demand for chicken, the broiler industry continues to expand. Unlike other commodities, broiler production in North Carolina is increasing throughout the state. Production can be found in the mountain, piedmont and coastal regious of the state.
Turkeys North Carolina remains a leading state in the production of turkeys. Turkey production continues to be concentrated in the southern piedmont and coastal regions of the State.
Eggs The state ranking for table egg production has fluctuated over the past 20 years. Changes in transportation costs have had significant impact on the location of egg production units. These changes can be traced to the early 1970's when the Southeast had strong growth. Now egg production is found mainly in central part of the State

Nursery & Greenhouse

Nurseries and greenhouses are another part of the diversified agriculture in North Carolina. Producers grow more than 40 different floriculture crops. A variety of bedding plants, cut flowers, potted plants, and hanging baskets are produced. In addition, there are a large number of acres devoted to Christmas tree production in North Carolina, with the Fraser Fir being the most popular species produced. North Carolina continues to be a leading state in the nursery crop production of evergreen and deciduous trees, shrub, and propagation material.


Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables

North Carolina farmers are meeting the increasing demand for high quality Fruits and Vegetables, enjoyed by millions of consumers every day. The fruit and vegetable industry is part of the diversification practiced by many Tar Heel farmers to meet the demand for fresh produce.

North Carolina produces a significant amount of Sweet Potatoes, cucumbers for pickles, lima beans, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, strawberry, bell peppers, blueberries, chile peppers, fresh market cucumbers, snap beans, cabbage, eggplant, watermelons, pecans, peaches, squash, apple, sweet corn, tomatoes, and grapes for millions of people in the United States and numerous other countries. 




As North Carolina farmers continue to diversify, aquaculture is an area that has provided opportunities. North Carolina has become a major producer of trout and catfish.  With increasing recognition that fish is a healthy food for consumers, the increase in demand has allowed aquaculture to be another diverse agriculture crop.





Last update July 28, 2014

NCDA&CS Agricultural Statistics Division, Dee Webb - State Statistician
Mailing Address: P. O. Box 27767 Raleigh, NC 27611
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 856-4394; FAX: (919) 856-4139