Something strange has been going on in farm country in the last sixty years: Farmers are using less labor and less land, but they’re growing more—a lot more. Here’s how they did it.

A new USDA report looks at the curious set of trends that’s been showing up on farms in the U.S. since 1948. While the two traditional backbones of farming—land and time—were steadily dropping, production was rising. So what’s going on? In a word, technology.

Automation isn’t typically what we call it, but that’s precisely what’s been happening on farms over the last 60 years: time and labor were replaced by better farm equipment, pesticides, fertilizers, and new varieties of plants. At the same time, farmers were also moving from being generalists to specialists—and were customizing their farms and equipment to suit the needs of those specific crops.

Of course, a historic rise isn’t a guarantee of a future rise—and in the three scenarios the report sketched out for where we might be in 2050, the report sketched out possibilities for both a rise or a slow-down in production. Still, seeing how far food production rates have jumped in the last six decades makes me like our chances for the future.

Image: Polarpx/ Shutterstock

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