I graduated from college in May of 1992 and started immediately working on the family farm. At the time we farmed about 1,000 acres, had a 12 row planter and a 6 row cornhead on our combine. We grew about 600 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans and it took us about 300 combine hours to harvest our crop.
Today, we farm about 2,000 acres, have 2 12 row planters, an 8 row cornhead on our combine. We grow about 1,400 acres of corn and 600 acres of soybeans and it takes us about 350 combine hours to harvest our crop. Things have changed, and that got me to thinking about how agriculture in general has change in the 20 years I have been farming. Yeah, 20 years! I can hardly believe it myself. When I started researching this, I was amazed on how far we have come in agriculture in just 20 years!
In 1992, I didn’t have a home computer, just like many in rural America. Now I have 2, and they are both necessary. I didn’t have a cell phone, now I can do more with my phone than I could with the computer I used in my computer lab in college. Yield monitors, which measure how much grain is harvested per acre of land, and GPS, which many of us have in our cars for navigation today, were just starting to be talked about, and guidance (where the tractor is guided through the field with GPS) was unheard of. We started using Yield monitors and GPS in 1995, the year my first child was born. Today we use all kinds of precision ag products to track not only yield, but application of seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc. You name it, we can track it to the inch. And lets not forget GMO’s. In 1992, there wasn’t much talk about genetically modified organisms, but today, they are a big part of agriculture- good or bad. Our farm was one of the first in the world to grow Bt corn in an on farm trial. There were a lot of restrictions at planting time, but by harvest, many of those had been relaxed. GMO’s allow us to farm in a way that is more beneficial to the environment.
Now for the surprising numbers. In 1992 the average farm size was 480 acres. Today, believe it or not, the average farm size has actually fallen to 418 acres based on 2007 numbers, which are the most recent from the USDA. Certified Organic acres have increased from 935,450 acres in 1992 to 4,815,959 acres as of 2008, and total Organic livestock and poultry numbers have increased from 73,010 animals in 1992 to to 15,993,904 animals in 2008, again these numbers came from the USDA. The number of Farmer’s markets in the United States has increased from 1755 in 1994 to 6,132 in 2010, based on statistics from the USDA. Grain production per ton of fertilizer has increased from 19 tons of grain per ton of fertilizer in 1992 to 20 tons of grain per ton of fertilizer in 2004, based on numbers from the USDA. Specifically for nitrogen, in 1992 we raised about 1 bushel per pound of nitrogen applied. In 2010, we raised about 1.3 bushels per pound of nitrogen applied, based on statistics from the University of Minnesota.
On the Energy side, while the numbers of drivers in the US have increased from 173 million in 1992 to 209 million in 2009, and the number of vehicles have increased from 190 million to 246 million in the same time period, oil consumption has only increased from 17.03 million barrels per day to 18.77 million barrels per day. Ethanol production has helped pick up the difference, increasing in production from 1,100 million gallon per year to 10,725 million gallons. Where would we be without renewable fuels? In agriculture, energy use peaked in 1978, and has continued to decline, while production has continued to increase, based on USDA research. We are producing more while using less energy.
I really was not sure what to expect when I started researching facts for this blog post, but now that I have completed my project, I must admit, those of us in Ag should be proud of what we have done in the last 20 years!