By any account, American agriculture is a tremendous success story. The problem is that this success is precariously balanced on a set of three crumbling ‘pillars’ whose degradation could reverse this course and put us on the path to less, rather than more food production and security.
Much has changed about American agriculture – and enabled vast increases in productivity and profitability – since the Great Dustbowl that inspired the iconic American Gothic painting. In fact, according to Cornell University, in the 25-year period between 1950 and 1975, while “… the acreage in farming dropped by 6 percent and the hours of farm labor decreased by 60 percent, farm production per hour of on-farm labor practically tripled, and total farm output increased by more than half.” New forms of farm mechanization drove less need for labor and greater existing farm hand productivity. The discovery of DDT and other effective pesticides increased the amount of saleable crops per harvest. The use of chemical fertilizers doubled between 1940 and 1944.
Sounds great, so what is the problem? Continue Reading →