What Ag Looked Like 50 Years Ago

Corn field with farmstead on horizon ( Darrell Smith )

Earlier this month, the world stood together in memory of the day Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon—a day that forever took its place in history. In just 50 years, technology and the world we live in has completely changed.

For farmers, 50 years has beckoned an unprecedented era of technological advancements. For example, the price of food has dropped significantly thanks to more efficient and higher-yielding systems.

“In 1969, the average American spent 15% of their income on food and only ate out every two weeks,” says Lowell Catlett, regents professor in agricultural economics at New Mexico State University.  “Today we spend less than 10% of our incomes on food and every other meal is eaten away from home.”

Farmers have improved their sustainability practices, too, and continue to improve every season. Read more about farmer efforts here.

“In 1969, the Cuyahoga River (in Ohio) was declared biologically dead due to pollution,” Catlett says. “Today it has more than 144 species of fish alone.”

Farmers are taking care of the environment more in 2019 than ever before, but that doesn’t come at the price of reduced efficiency. Today farmers produce more than enough calories to feed all 7+ billion people in the world.

“The efficiency of pounds produced per weight of gain in livestock increased by 50% while using 25% fewer resources,” he says. “Corn yield [50 years ago] was 75 bu. per acre, today it’s about 175 bu. per acre.

“We’ve come a long way, we’re feeding more people better than we ever have. Despite the fact that many would like for us to go back to more acres we’re simply not going to do that. We’ll use scientific agriculture to feed the world.”

He points to the efficiencies gained through better breeding, biotech, disease control and other factors as parts of “scientific” ag that will be critical to feed an ever-growing world.