Monday, September 24, 2007

United States Selected Crops

This chart shows the amount of acres harvested for some of our largest field crops. As you can see, they just aren't making much more land these days. The values are stacked one on top of another. In other words, in 2007, each of these crops took up about the same amount of farmland. Can you see the pressure being put on wheat?

This is the amount of production in millions of bushels. The productivity miracle has been working overtime on corn. Too bad we intend to power our vehicles with it (ethanol) instead of eat it. Wheat on the other hand, isn't doing all that well.

Behold the productivity miracle. Keep in mind corn has always been far more efficient at pumping out bushels. Corn wouldn't stand out so much if I normalized them looking solely at the growth. The thing to take from the chart is that we've had a substantial improvement in crop yields starting in the 1930s. It truly has been a productivity miracle. The big question is whether we can keep it up or not. The biggest question might be what happens if we truly do run out of cheap oil. As impressive as it is to increase bushels per acre, it still assumes we have the energy to do it (cost effectively).

Wheat's productivity miracle is starting to sputter. 0.65% growth does not keep up with US population growth. Should that trend continue, we'll need to find more land. It also might help explain why wheat is trading at record highs right now (in addition to other possible reasons: speculation, high oil prices, trade deficit inspiring billions to buy food).

If they continue to improve corn at the present rate (1.7% annual growth in yield), it will become a sentient being within a few decades and form its own trade union. Unfortunately, we'll probably still be burning it as fuel (based on how we treat our milk cows).

Soybeans keep chugging along (1.5% annual growth in yield), although there is a hint in recent years that might be changing.

See Also:
United States Beef
Productivity Miracle

Source Data: USDA


Anonymous said...

Something like a third of US farmland has been retired since 1800 due to the loss of topsoil and 40% of existing farmland is loosing topsoil at an unsustainable rate. Combining those troubling facts with rising oil prices (and oil-based fertilizers and pesticides) leads me to suspect that ever increasing crop yields are also unsustainable.

Stagflationary Mark said...


The topic of topsoil is a good one. You have inspired my next post!