January 29, 2010

Improving farm productivity allowed U.S. to become industrial power

In 1900, more than forty per cent of a family’s income went to paying for food. At the same time, farming was hugely labor-intensive, tying up almost half the American workforce. We were, partly as a result, still a poor nation. Only by improving the productivity of farming could we raise our standard of living and emerge as an industrial power.
That paragraph can be found in an article in The New Yorker from mid-December.

While the article is about the health care debate, it dives into the advancements in agricultural productivity - and even touches on agricultural extension.

The best agriculture information begins at paragraph 7 and runs through paragraph 21.

Are are a few more lines, but consider checking out the full article:

For industrializing nations in the first half of the twentieth century, food was the fundamental problem. The desire for a once-and-for-all fix led Communist governments to take over and run vast “scientific” farms and collectives. We know what that led to: widespread famines and tens of millions of deaths.

The United States did not seek a grand solution. Private farms remained, along with the considerable advantages of individual initiative. Still, government was enlisted to help millions of farmers change the way they worked. The approach succeeded almost shockingly well. The resulting abundance of goods in our grocery stores and the leaps in our standard of living became the greatest argument for America around the world.
It is nice to see a positive acknowledge of the dramatic improvements in agriculture productivity -- improvements that continue to this day. Every year farmers work to produce more with fewer inputs -- more corn, soybeans, pork, beef, milk or whatever. They do this through improved techniques and advanced technology.

By striving to become more efficient, farmers can better care for the environment because they can meet all demands by producing more on fewer acres - using less fertilizer and other inputs in the process. Efficiencies also benefit the livestock side. For example, more milk per cow means less manure, less feed and so on; all while producing the same amount of milk.

It is this ability to continuously become more efficient that makes so many other things possible -- including other food production methods, from organic to local to whatever.

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