Guebert: The old economics of new agriculture: drive or be driven


A current, quantity-laden bulletin posted on the College of Illinois internet website farmdoc Daily caught my consideration For two causes.

First, its knowledge, drawn principally from a quantity of U.S. Census of Agriculture, paints a troubling picture of U.S. agriculture right now. Extra primarily, that picture suggests American ag coverage Should make “strategic” modifications To fulfill new challenges — local climate change and new worldwide rivals are two — that U.S. farmers and ranchers will confront.

For event, notes the report, The quantity of land farmed in U.S. farms peaked at 1.2 billion acres in 1950. In 2017, land farmed totaled 900 million acres, or “26% much less.” The “largest decline in land use class [over that interval]… was farm woodlots with A scarcity of 147 million acres.”

Apparently, neverthemuch less, “Harvested cropland peaked in 1930 at 359 million acres, As in contrast with 320 million acres Inside the 2017 Census…” A lot of that distinction Might be accounted for in right now’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); it held 23 million acres in 2017 and no acres in 1930 as a Outcome of the CRP didn’t start till 1985.

Truly — and right here comes the report’s conclusion — right now’s “voluntary conservation packages,” principally CRP, have “materially lowered The power of the U.S. to increase acres in response to income from crop manufacturing” As in contrast with The two Latest, extreme-revenue eras, 1973-1980 And A pair of007-2013 when one key factor of farm coverage was “set asides.”

As such, mightbe a “potential strategic response” to this “conversion of cropland” Can be for the U.S. to focus more “public crop evaluation from a yield to multi-cropping focus” so “…every acre provides the potential to develop each U.S. crop output… As properly as To enhance land for environmental makes use of…”

I study the quantitys, dug up A couple of more, and acquired here up with a more pressing forecast. I do know; huge shock.

No question, American farmers and ranchers will face rising strain to stability enhanced meals manufacturing with enhanced local climate change. That actuality suggests our current strategy — An extreme quantity of carbon, too little variety, too many authorities dollars underwriting each — will strain change.

And We will change. Truly, we’re good at it as a Outcome of we’ve acquiredten A lot of apply with change over the previous shut to-century.

For event, Based mostly on Ag Census quantitys, in 1929, U.S. farmers grew 33.5 million acres of oats, 62 million acres of wheat, And A pair of.9 million acres of soybeans. In 2017, U.S farmers grew solely 814,000 acres of oats, simply 39 million acres of wheat, and a whopping 90 million acres of soybeans.

So We will do change, even huge-time change.

Equally important, although, is what hasn’t modified. In 1929, the Ag Census confirmed 43 % of all U.S farmland, or 411 million acres, in “previousure.” Strikingly — even extremely — The quantity of U.S. land in previousure Inside the 2017 Census was 415 million acres.

So, from simply these Earlier couple of quantitys It’d be protected To foretell that tomorrow’s needed modifications might very properly contain large shifts in crop acreages (I’m Taking A look at you, corn) and little — if any — discount in previousureland.

Furthermore, at 40 %-plus of our current U.S. farmland base, right now’s monumental quantity of previousure will probably play A critical position in any multi-use/local climate-imposed change to meals manufacturing. How? Assume multi-species, multi-crop — collectively with carbon farming — strategyes Which will transition low-influence previousures into prolonged-time period, extreme-revenue acres.

Tright here’s even a throwback authorities-cost mannequin To understand the shifts in land use probably needed for U.S. agriculture To diminish its carbon footprint wright hereas developing its carbon sequestration: Sure, land set asides, the hallmark Of Almost every Farm Invoice from The good Melancholy by way of 1996’s Freedom to Farm legal guidelines.

Can’t be carried out? Maybe not by farmers Who’re each closely invested Inside the equipment and politics of right now’s authorities sponsored, no-tomorrow mannequin.

However tomorrow is coming; that’s a given. What’s additionally a given is that farmers can Decide to drive the change or be pushed by it.

The Farm and Food File is revealed weekly by way of the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events And get In contact with information are posted at

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