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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Technological advancements in agriculture

From the Nov. 11, 1906 NYT:
The preliminary returns on the production of corn in 1906 indicate a total yield of about 2,881,096,000 bushels, or an average of 30.2 bushels per acre, as compared with an average ield of 28.8 bushels as finally estimated in 1905, 26.8 bushels as finally estimated in 1904, and a ten-year average of 25.2 bushels.
The story goes on to list the average returns in the major corn-producing state. The greatest yield was in Ohio (42.6 bushels per acre) and the lowest yield was in Georgia (12 bushels per acre).

A brief search yields this document which reports:
This survey found that on a statewide basis, bare Ohio cropland averaged $3886 per acre for top land, $3280 for average land and $2693 for poor land. Top land averages 177 bushels of corn per acre and rents for $138 per acre. Average land yields 146 bushels of corn per acre and rents for $111 per acre. Poor cropland averages 113 bushels per acre and rents for $87 per acre.
Today's relatively poor cropland yields almost three times as much corn per acre than the average acre 100 years ago. Improved technology? Check. Improved methods? Check. Improved irrigation and pest control? Check.

Another influence might be that in 1906 a higher percentage of land on which corn was grown was "poor cropland." Over the past century, the least productive land in terms of growing corn and other crops has been converted to other (more productive/valuable) uses.

The end of the family farmer is decried by many, but if the number of family farms was to increase dramatically and the amount of land being farmed was expected to increase, then marginal land ("poor cropland") would be re-employed in the ag sector (perhaps not in growing corn) and the per-acre yield would be expected to drop.

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