American Agriculture

American agriculture has often been maligned for any number of reasons, but when the truth is fully known, it is the envy of the world.

Even though the US has only 6% of the world’s population, it has approximately 20% of the world’s arable land. Furthermore, the productivity of US land is stupendous. Fifty years ago, 10 tons of tomatoes per acre was good; today 50 tons is more the norm. If Russian wheat farmers had the same production as US farmers, we would see an annual crop of about 250 million metric tons rather than the normal 90 million metric tons in Russia.

While there were approximately 2.6 acres of farmland per person in the US in 1960, today that has shrunk to less than 1.0 per person. At the same time, arable land across the world has increased only 13%, whereas population has increased almost 100% over the same time. Luckily, productivity per acre has more than made up for the loss of land and increase of population. American know-how has been exported and copied around the world.

However, there comes a time when productivity increases slowly, and therefore population must slow---and that is happening in most areas of the world, with a notable exception of Africa, where there are now nascent signs of improved education and lower birth rates.

Because radical population changes are slow to materialize, we must continue to improve agricultural productivity. Improved fertilizers are still arriving, although not as often and not as unique. But genetic engineering is still producing major changes in seeds and rootstocks, and most of those are coming from US companies and farms.

Fortunately, agriculture has seen a big increase in investment in the past few years---always a precursor to further improvement.

Brett MacNeil