Monday, August 03, 2015

Down on the Farm, Productivity is Soaring

A new USDA report
notes that while American farmers are putting less land and human labor into farms, farm production has skyrocketed thanks to better farm equipment, pesticides, fertilizers, and new plant varieties.

American farmers, who were once inefficient generalists, are now highly efficient specialists with farms and equipment customized to maximize production and profit.

Poultry and egg production outputs have skyrocketed.
Labor and land use have steadily declined, returning farm to fallow and forest.

Of course, past performance does not guarantee future growth, but with dramatic advances in genetic engineering, look for more production of even better foods from even less land in the future.


Lauren said...

"more production of even better foods from even less land in the future."

Better could be debated. I was reminded of this review of the book "The Dorito Effect" I read last weekend. It hypothesizes that the bland fruits and vegetables that have resulted from the endless quest to increase shelf life and yield are part the of the cause of the obesity epidemic. You might find it interesting.

PipedreamFarm said...

I have a hard time believing "bland fruits and vegetables" contributing to obesity.

Jennifer said...

Interesting that productivity and poultry and egg production seem to have peaked.
Those graphs only go to 2011. What's happened in the last few years? I think poultry has crashed due to avian flu.

geonni banner said...

Bland fruits and vegetable are a real thing. If veggies and fruit weren't bred primarily for transportability and uniformity, they might just taste better. Fruit especially has suffered. Picked green and refrigerated too cold and too long, makes peaches especially, sub-standard eating. Mealy and insipid. Yeah, they're big, but not very appetizing. Is it any wonder that people - children especially - will push away a plate of fresh melon and peaches and reach for Capt'n Crunch instead?

Tomatoes are similarly bred to take machine processing without squishing or springing a leak, and are also picked green. Tasteless crap. Melons, peaches, tomatoes and even potatoes. Boooooring. And even lemons. I am lucky enough to have a lemon tree in my back yard. When my tree runs out of fruit, what's in the store is a very poor substitute. Mostly I avoid them and wait for mine to ripen the next wave.

PBurns said...

Egg production was at record levels in 2014, but it's down about 9% due to avian flu. That will be a very temporary thing, and numbers will shoot up dramatically next year.

PBurns said...

The dramatic rise in obesity in the United States, is due to the rise of computers and an entirely sedate lifestyle. Nothing else. Look at these graphs.

Jennifer said...

I wrote my MS thesis in 1978 on dietary trends in the USA 1900-1978. The onslaught of the obesity epidemic was already visible then. Not a simple single cause, other than the food sector wanting to grow a few percent per year faster than the population. How does a food sector grow. Adding 'value', ie., processing. Only so much simple food you can eat . . . so this growth went into processing and 'convenience', and of course, creating flavors that invite people to eat more, and advertize, especially to kids. Meanwhile eating as a family broke down, microwaves have made it easy to have a quick meal or snack any time, fast foods outfits have spread. There's only so much value you can add to an apple. But if you process it, and mix it with a lot of fat, flour and sugar . . . you've got endless possibilities. Traditional spuds .. . no 'value added'. Fries and chips, lots of fat, lots of calories, lots of added 'value'.

More sedentary lifestyles go hand and glove with these trends ... as does breeding plants for easy processing and loss of flavor. Hard to say which is more important. Doesn't really matter. The solution has to involve both a change in dietary preferences and more activity. Home gardens need to be encouraged.

The healthiest years for diet in the US were during the Second World War when there was a major government effort to encourage growing food at home, and the quota system limited access to butter, sugar, and other low value high calorie foods.

PipedreamFarm said...

I am not disputing fruits and vegetables have had changes in flavor concurrent with changes associated with increasing transportation distances. I am not disputing there may be a correlation between changes in the flavor of fruits and vegetables and increasing obesity. I am doubting the flavor changes in fruits and vegetables are causes of increasing obesity; flavor changes did not cause those with weight issues to switch from healthy lifestyles (eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and exercising) to lifestyles that promote weight gain.

Correlation does not demonstrate causation.

PBurns said...

We KNOW why more Americans are fat: cars, television, and computers.

See >> "We’re Eating Less Calories But Are Fatter Than Ever" at

Jennifer said...

Mechanization has obviated physical work for most of the population. Yes. We would be healthier if we got more exercise. Yes. Are people going to go back to living by the sweat of the brow? Hard to imagine. Are families going to give up having computers and video games help to babysit while both parents work? Hard to imagine. Government programs have tried to push fitness since the sputnik era. Who knows, maybe we'd be fatter and lazier if this hadn't happened.

Meanwhile, life expectancy continues to increase.

It ain't simple!

PBurns said...

Actually, it IS pretty simple. Simple does not mean convenient, but it does mean simple.

The simple truth is that people need to eat less and exercise more.

Oddly, we are actually consuming FEWER calories now than we used to, but we are not exercising as much. In short, it's NOT calories or "processed food." It's exercise.

Most Americans never did too much "sweat of their brow" stuff. We have been a majority urban population since 1930.

But we used to walk more, bike more, rake our own leaves, mow our own lawns. People can live without the internet 8 hours a day and television another 7 and cell phones for 4. Seriously, we can and have.

You can walk your own dog, hunt your own dog, shear your own hedges, walk to the grocery store, plant your own flower beds, take a hike, and clean up your own house. You can take the stairs instead the of elevator or escalator. You can play tennis, basketball or even ping pong.

Can you change everyone else in America? No. But when could you ever? What you can do is change yourself, and part of that it recognizing that the problem is not "those people" who are somehow making evil food. They're not. They're not the problem. It's not "GMO" or "big ag" or "fast food" or factory farms. It's less exercise. The problem is an inside job, not an outside one.

Jennifer said...

I'm overweight but muscular and not obese. I garden, do a lot of manual work, run a few miles a day, walk the dogs . . . etc. At 66, I can still manage an 80# bag of cement. Loosing 20 lb would be easy. All I'd need to do is give up beer and drink water instead. Problem: I really like beer!

On one level the cause is simple. Basic fact of system dynamics: Too much in, too little out, you end out with accumulation (in this case, fat). Feedback from accumulation (ie., fat) that either or both increases the outflow (exercise) or the inflow (overeating) is needed.

The solution isn't so easy. Social pressure doesn't seem to do the trick. There's no lack of shame for being fat and reward for being svelt, and plenty of messages saying it's cool to work out, do sports, etc.

Seems there's pretty strong structure that results in couch potatoes. The fact that the trend shows up so strongly in children suggests it has something to do with how family life works. Eg., two working parents in an urban dwelling, both parents working, fear of letting kids range free on the streets, ease of setting them down behind a screen with a keyboard, joystick or video linkages of some sort . . .