Since the 1970s, Brazilian agriculture has undergone far-reaching changes and has played a major role in agricultural production worldwide. This article assesses the structural heterogeneity prevailing in Brazilian and United States agriculture by studying total factor productivity (TFP), which has increased in both economies, mainly through technologies allowing for economies in the use of land and labour. Although higher growth rates have enabled Brazil to narrow the productivity gap with the United States, this does not mean its productivity is superior. Each country’s production structure has specific features; and productivity differences can be seen not only between but also within countries, owing to a variety of factors, including climate, technology and learning in the production process. Resource use has become more efficient in both countries, enabling them to produce more with fewer inputs.