Farm productivity climbs while land, energy and water use decline

submitted by Aaron Putze
Director of External Relations & Coordinator
Iowa Food & Family ProjectIowa Soybean Association

If past performance is an indicator of future success, then there’s much to be optimistic about regarding agriculture! Corn production has nearly doubled since 1980 while the amount of nutrients used to grow it has declined by more than half.

The numbers speak for themselves. Nearly 30 years ago, America’s farmers harvested 6.64 billion bushels of corn and used 3.9 pounds of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) per bushel to nourish it. In 2010, farmers harvested 12.45 billion bushels of corn while using 1.6 pounds of nutrients per bushel.

Similar trends can be found in soybean, beef and dairy production. For example, since 1987, producing a bushel of soybeans uses 26 percent less land, 61 percent less energy and 20 percent less water. Similarly, a gallon of milk is produced today using 65 percent less water and 90 percent less land than in 1944 while each pound of beef requires 14 percent less water and 34 percent less land.

Why the improvement?

Better feed, seed, livestock facilities and farm equipment. Advancements in all phases of agriculture have helped farmers optimize the use of each acre of land and raise livestock, dairy and poultry that’s healthier and achieve market weight sooner.