By The Numbers

4 surprising changes on the American farm

Max Bernstein Jul 17, 2013

For those of you who are passionate about both statistics and agriculture — and surely there are a lot of you out there! — get excited, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released 76 years worth of farming data.

The USDA has posted PDFs of every edition of its annual “Agricultural Statistics” report dating back to 1936. The report contains exhaustive amounts of data on everything from crop prices to how and what Americans eat.

Over on its blog, the USDA put up these surprising stats, which vividly demonstrate, among other things, how corn has become the dominate staple in the American diet.

(Check the ingredients on any given item at the grocery store. Chances are a corn byproduct will be in there.)

Some of the most interesting facts include:

  • U.S. egg exports skyrocketed from 5 million dozen in 1940 to 153 million dozen in 1941, the same year the Lend-Lease policy was enacted to provide food aid to Britain and other allies during World War II. By 1944, that number was nearly 700 million dozen!
  • In 1933, hybrid corn seeds made up only one-tenth of 1 percent of the national crop. Within ten years, that proportion reached 50 percent, and by 1956, more than 90 percent of the national corn crop was from hybrid seeds.
  • Iowa harvested 2.36 billion bushels of corn in 2011, more than the entire U.S. corn harvest of 1935.
  • Once a necessary element of every American farm, horses and mules fell from a population of 18.7 million in 1930 to 3.1 million in 1960, after which the USDA simply stopped collecting the data.

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