What Is an Agricultural Product?

It's so much more than just food you eat

MICHAEL LOFENFELD Photography/Contributor/Getty Images

An agricultural product is the product you get when you cultivate plants or animals to sustain or enhance human life.

Food represents the most widely produced agricultural product, and in fact the global per-person food supply (as measured in calories per person) has risen more than 20% in the last 50 years. But humans also use a vast array of agricultural products every day, ranging from the clothes we wear to the paper we write on.

We decorate with flowers often produced by agriculture and run our cars in part on ethanol produced by agriculture. And, we use agricultural products to make plastics.

Examples of Agricultural Products

Agricultural products generally fall into one of four groups: foods, fuels, fibers and raw materials. Here are examples of each:

  • Food. Grains and cereal crops are grown on more than half the world's farmed acreage, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But food agriculture crops obviously encompass more than just cereals like wheat and corn. Meats and dairy products like milk also are agricultural food products, as are honey and farmed fish.
  • Fuels. Ethanol, produced from corn, sugarcane or sorghum, is the agricultural fuel product in widest use. However, agricultural byproducts like straw sugarcane also are burned to produce power.
  • Fibers. Fiber crops include cotton (in the top 10 of crops produced in the U.S. each year), wool and silk. Agricultural producers also use hemp to make rope and flax to make linen. It's even possible to use bamboo fiber to make cloth.
  • Raw materials. These are agricultural products used to make other agricultural products. For example, livestock feed (an agricultural product) is used to feed the animals who produce dairy products.

Agricultural Products in an Organic Context

The National Organic Program (NOP) will certify products as organic.

However, they only certify agricultural products, defined under a specific, more narrow definition.

The program defines an agricultural product a little bit differently. It states:"Any agricultural commodity or product, whether raw or processed, including any commodity or product derived from livestock, that is marketed in the United States for human or livestock consumption."

Examples of agricultural items that can be certified by the National Organic Program include textiles, flowers, food, seed, plants and feed.

The fact that NOP only certifies and watches over organic agricultural products that are marketed for consumption creates some problems in the organic product marketplace. For example, organic body care products are not always made with 100% agricultural products.

Body care makers using only agricultural ingredients may be certified as officially USDA organic. Products that are made with "non-agricultural substances" are not covered by the National Organic Program. Minerals, bacterial cultures, gums, citric acid, pectin and other same-type items are considered non-agricultural.

Since non-certified organic body care products aren't covered under the NOP umbrella, there's no USDA agency oversight for them. Therefore, manufacturers can claim that their products are "organic" when in fact those products may include questionable ingredients.

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