Cash receipts from farm marketings totaled over $8.1 billion in 2001, placing Minnesota 6th among the 50 states; crops made up about 47% of the total value. For 2002, Minnesota ranked 1st in the production of oats, sugar beets, sweet corn for processing, and green peas for processing; 2nd in flaxseed; 3rd in spring wheat, corn and soybeans; 4th in corn and sunflowers; 5th in hay and 6th in barley.
The early farmers settled in the wooded hills and valleys in the southeastern quarter of the state, where they had to cut down trees and dig up stumps to make room for crops. With the coming of the railroads, farmers began planting the prairies with wheat, which by the late 1870s took up 70% of all farm acreage. In succeeding decades, wheat prices fell and railroad rates soared, fanning agrarian discontent. Farmers began to diversify, with dairy farming, oats, and corn becoming increasingly important. Improved corn yields since the 1940s have spurred the production of hogs and beef cattle and the growth of meat-packing as a major industry.
As of 2002, the state had 79,000 farms, covering 28,400,000 acres (11,500,000 hectares), or 56% of the state's total land area; the average farm had 361 acres (146 hectares). The number of people living on farms steadily declined from 624,000 in 1960 to 482,000 in 1970, and then to only 207,956, or 4.75% of the total population, by 1991. The value of farmland rose between 1998 and 2002, from $1,040 per acre to $1,450. Minnesota's farmers faced acute financial troubles during the early 1980s as a result of heavy debts, high interest rates, and generally low crop prices.
The main farming areas are in southern Minnesota, where corn, soybeans, and oats are important, and in the Red River Valley along the western border, where wheat, barley, sugar beets, and potatoes are among the chief crops.
Agribusiness is Minnesota's largest basic industry, with about one-fourth of the state's labor force employed in agriculture or agriculture-related industries, most notably food processing.