September 06, 2016

Advances in Agriculture in America and Around the World

By Marian L. Tupy
Last week, Case IH, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment, unveiled a prototype of a farm tractor that can plant, monitor crops, and harvest without a driver. In the future, "autonomous vehicles" could complete the process of mechanization of American farming, thereby further increasing U.S. agricultural productivity. The negative effects of increased mechanization on the labor market should be minimal, since only 1.5 percent of the American labor force works in the agricultural sector. Conversely, productivity improvements in agriculture could increase positive effects on the environment. As Jesse H. Ausubel writes, "agriculture has always been the greatest destroyer of nature, stripping and despoiling it, and reducing acreage left." Thus, if humanity can further increase crop yields—since 1940, the American farmers have quintupled corn production while using the same or even less land—some of the agricultural land could be returned to nature. Globally, adoption of American farming techniques could increase agricultural productivity so much that a landmass the size of India could be returned to nature—without compromising food supply to our apparently "peaking" global population.1. U.S. agricultural output has been growing...
2. ...even though very few Americans still work in agriculture.3. As a result of increasing farm productivity, food prices have been declining.4. Today Americans spend less on food as a share of their income than even before...5. ...and they get to consume more calories.6. Globally, food prices are lower today than what they were in 1960.7. As a result, people around the world consume more calories.8. And, in spite of global population increase, the use of land for agricultural purposes has peaked around the year 2000.

This article was originally published in Reason.