Friday, March 6, 2015

Farm Modernization by the Numbers

The U.S. is a highly-industrialized country, yet it is able to maintain a strong agricultural sector. Although farmers only comprise 2 percent of the current U.S. population today, as opposed to more than 90 percent two centuries ago, food production has increased by more than 262% since the 1950s.

To put farm modernization in a nutshell, a modern plow attached to a tractor can do the work of a dozen plows pulled by cattle. Instead of milking one cow at a time, milking machines can be wired to deliver milk from multiple cows to the tank. With farm modernization, it's not that farming has become a lost art entirely; it's just that so much work can be done today by just a few.

Corn and soybean comprise the majority of U.S. crop production. More than 9 million acres of corn yielded over 14.2 million tons, while roughly 8.4 million acres of soybean yielded close to 4 million tons in 2014. At the turn of the 20th century, corn production was only a bit over 2 million tons.

Modern equipment also drove prices down, from $0.49 per bushel in 1870 to $0.36 in 1900 in corn. Although corn prices in 2014 clocked in at $3.77 per bushel, the prices aren't adjusted for inflation yet. The relative values of corn per bushel back then, at the bare minimum, would be $8.12 and $5.97, respectively.

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