Agriculture in North America

The United States is the world's fourth largest country. Nearly 30% of its territory (approximately 260 million hectares) is covered by forests. Over 25% (approximately 240 million hectares) is permanent grassland and other non-forested pasture and rangeland. Approximately 20% of the area (185 million hectares) in the United States is devoted to cropland. The latter category includes land used for crops, land left idle, and land rotated into pasture. Thus, agriculture, including grazing land and forestry represent nearly 75% of the total expanse of the highly industrialized United States (National Assessment Synthesis Team, 2000).

Some interesting trends in agriculture in the United States have been documented. In the past decade, the area of U.S. cropland has declined over 10% as conservation efforts for the most environment-sensitive lands and highly erodible lands have removed about 15 million hectares from the cropping systems (U.S. Department of State, 1997). While there have been declines in area devoted to production, U.S. harvests feed a population that has grown two and a half times in the last century, and its food exports have expanded considerably.

Canada is the second largest country in the world and extends over 997 million hectares in total of which 921.5 million hectares is land area. But the country is sparsely populated, with most of its population concentrated along its southern border. Most of the land area is forested, and only 5% is suitable for farming, mostly in two zones - the Prairies and the mixed Wood Plains of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes regions. The Prairies alone account for about 80% of Canada's 68 million hectares of farmland. Two-thirds of all farmland is used for crops and improved pastures (those are seeded, drained, fertilized, or weeded); the rest is occupied by "unimproved" pastures and other land covers. The relative areas devoted to annual crops and animal husbandry vary widely across the country. For example, large areas of the Prairies are used almost exclusively for cropland, whereas small pockets of concentrated livestock production exist in areas of British Columbia and the southern regions of Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. (Janzen et al., 1998).

Temperate and boreal forests cover nearly half of Canada's land mass. Of the 417.6 million hectares of forests, 234.5 million hectares are considered "commercial forests" - capable of producing commercial species of trees as well as other non-timber benefits. The non-commercial forest area (183.1 million hectares) is made up of open forests comprising natural areas of small trees, shrubs, and muskegs. With about 10% of the world's forests and nearly 25% of the planet's fresh water (much of it in forested areas), Canada's forests play critical roles in moderating climate and filtering air and water (Canadian Forest Service, 2001).

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