On over 1 billion acres of farmland across rural America, farmers produce everything from corn and other feed grains to fruits and tree nuts to soybeans and oil crops.
In 2018, the United States agriculture sector produced $384 billion dollars in revenue. About 75% of this income was from meat and animal feed, 17% was from non-meat crops for human consumption and the remaining 8% was from tobacco, cotton and other crops deemed not fit for consumption.
Starting at around 1.75 million farms in 1850, peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935 and leveling off at around 2.05 million farms today, the productivity and output levels of the agricultural industry in the United States has shifted immensely over time. While the falling farm numbers may initially appear negative, they actually reflect an increase in productivity and the increase in nonfarm employment opportunities.
The graph below shows that the amount of farmland did not decrease as the number of farms did; rather, the average size of each farm grew. On average, a farm in 1935 had about 155 acres while a farm in 2017 had about 444 acres.
The driving factors behind the changes are, unsurprisingly, rooted in technology. Innovations in crop genetics, farm equipment and organization and chemicals have allowed farms to increase output even as the total amount of farms and farmland decreased.
Today, the two biggest farms in the United States both sit around 190,000 acres and are owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick and the Offutt Family.
Steve Resnick, an entrepreneur with holdings in industries ranging from technology to cleaning services, started with 2,500 acres of oranges and lemons in 1970 and now owns acres of land across California and Texas that grow everything from pomegranates to pistachios. Further north, the Offutt Family grows potatoes in North Dakota and actively supports, and engages with, research to develop the most environmentally friendly farming practices while maintaining high – quality crops.
Through innovation, we have the opportunity to farm sustainably while also having significant output.
If food tech and CPG innovators can continue building relationships with farmers who engage in environmentally friendly farming practices, we can innovate supply chain management – making sure access and nutrition remains at the forefront of food production/distribution.