In the entire history of empire building, there is no chapter that can compare with the one that tells the story of the development of the Great West from a vast expanse of primeval prairie, desert and forest into the world’s richest and most extensive agricultural empire. The speed and completeness affected by this transformation are mainly due to the invention of agricultural machinery with remarkable precision and power.
America’s history, economic growth, and global competitiveness are closely related to food. Science, technology, inventors, and entrepreneurs were indispensable ingredients in America’s economic apple pie.
In the colonial era, more than 90% of the population was engaged in agriculture, using tools not unlike those used by their ancient ancestors. Plows were scarce: the Plymouth Colony had had nothing for 12 years, Massachusetts Bay farmers had only 30 by 1635, and the Virginia Colony had 150 by 1648. Plows were heavy and inconvenient. As the population moved west, the pioneers struggled to turn over the heavy, sticky soil of the Great Meadow, even using a cast-iron plow.
But the mid-19th century saw a wave of agricultural innovations. In 1837, John Deere introduced the self-cleaning steel plow, solving the problem of sticky soil. Once taking two men with horses or oxen for a whole day to plow an acre, the time was reduced to five to eight hours with steel plows, making the way for westward expansion easier. Deere has continued to build a legacy of innovation and is a $44 billion global giant that employs more than 75,000 people today. Its farm machines are now spinning data centers, and the company is leading a revolution in precision and AI-enabled farming.
With the advent of new inventions, the average annual investment per farmer in farm machinery and equipment rose from $7 in 1859 to $26 in 1880 (in constant dollars). Around 1905, gasoline tractors made plowing easier; A farmer with a tractor pulling a four-row cultivator can plant 60 to 65 acres of corn per day, compared to the eight to 10 acres he could plant with a two-horse team. By 1911, a farmer with a tractor could plow, plow and roll a 10-acre field per day for 40 to 50 cents an acre. Prior to the tractor, it was estimated that it would have taken 10 men and 20 horses to do the job at a cost of $1.25 an acre to plow alone.
Agricultural labor productivity jumped. As acreage and production expanded, cheaper food freed capital for manufacturing and abundant food allowing labor to move from farms to factories, leading to the rise of American cities. From 1800 to 1900, the proportion of the US population living in urban areas increased eightfold, from 4% to 33%, and doubled from 1860 to 1900.
In the 1860s, America established the College Grants and Extension System, which played a critical role in teaching farmers how to use new machinery and changing their practices to take full advantage of these developments. This infrastructure of knowledge and training has been a major driver of productivity. From 1948 to 2017, total agricultural production nearly tripled even though total hours worked in the sector fell by more than 80%. This is due to the quality of the work. Between 1950 and 2017, the largest growth in the proportion of hours worked in agriculture was among workers with at least a four-year college degree, and the share of hours worked for those with a four-year college degree or degree rose from about 4% to 41%.
Today, the state invests more than $3.6 billion in agricultural science research and development (R&D) in land grants and other US higher education institutions. Some of that money comes from the $3.3 billion the USDA spends on research, education, and extension. Recent USDA analysis shows that research and development for food and agriculture has tripled since 2000 to more than $12 billion. The USDA analyzed studies evaluating the social rate of return on agricultural research, indicating that every dollar spent on agricultural research returned $10 in benefits to the economy.
The food sector in the United States has grown into an economic and competitive powerhouse. Agriculture, food, and related industries contributed more than $1 trillion to US GDP in 2020, at 5%. The United States is the world’s largest food exporter, Agricultural exports recorded their highest levels ever in 2021, reaching $177 billion, outstripping the 2020 total by 18%, leading to a trade surplus, with large surpluses in meat, dairy and grains – a bright spot in the overall negative trade balance. we’ve got. Every billion dollars in agricultural exports supports an estimated 7,700 jobs and $1.14 billion in additional economic activity.
About 110,000 enterprises in the US agricultural sector produce bounty with 2.2 million workers and self-employed workers, less than 2% of American workers. But, given what it takes to put food on the plate — including farming, fishing, hunting, food and beverage manufacturing, agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturing, agrochemical manufacturing, food and beverage stores, food services, drinking places, and wholesalers — the job footprint expands to 17.6 million workers, or roughly Of 15% of employment in the private sector.
The global market for food and beverage products is on a growth trajectory, and is expected to reach nearly $2 trillion by 2025. The growing boom in developing countries is expected to add 1.5 billion people to the global middle class in the next decade, boosting demand Get better food and more protein-rich diets.
However, our success in food has created challenges. Improving health, longevity and reducing disease requires a transition from a diet rich in processed food products loaded with sugar, fillers and additives to more options such as plant-based meats and dairy products. According to a survey by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Americans had an average score of 59 out of 100 for eating food that complied with dietary guidelines.
Food production contributes to serious environmental problems. Thirty-one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agri-food systems. The US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain accounts for 11% of total US energy use and about 30% of US blue water withdrawals, even with some areas of the country experiencing water stress. Rice is a major staple crop for more than half of the world’s population, but its cultivation produces methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.2over 20 years, 80 times more effective in warming. the potential for climate change to cause more extreme weather; Changes in temperature and precipitation, affecting soil quality and moisture that can reduce arable land, droughts, floods, wildfires, and changes in pest and disease patterns; The decline in the health of pollinators threatens agricultural productivity and production. Mitigating carbon production and greenhouse gas emissions from food production must address how to remove these harmful by-products and grow them sustainably.
Strong demand for ethanol drove up corn prices, providing incentives for farmers to increase corn acreage. Today, 40% of the corn crop in the United States is used to produce ethanol. In many cases, farmers increased acreage of corn by swapping soybeans or cotton for corn, reducing rest periods that allow fields to recover, or growing corn on cropland used as pasture.
Food waste is a big problem. The United States wastes more than a third of its food supply, not only wasting food and nutrients, but also the resources used to produce them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the industrial, residential, commercial and institutional sectors waste approximately 102 million tons of food, with 35% of it sent to landfill.
Building sustainable, healthy, carbon-neutral food systems from farm to factory to fork is a golden opportunity. Addressing climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and food packaging waste is creating a perfect storm for new innovative products and services across food growing, production, distribution and consumption systems.