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Economic Trends in U.S. Agriculture and Food Systems Since World War II

Economic Trends in U.S. Agriculture  
and Food Systems Since World War II 
by Milton C. Hallberg 
Iowa State University Press, 2001 

The dramatic changes in U.S. agriculture since 1950 are apparent to almost everyone -- larger  acreages, fewer farm families, increased technology, global marketing. 

The relationships between these trends and how they have affected -- and are affected by -- U.S. agriculture policy is the focus of this book by Penn State ag economist Milton Hallberg. 

Since 1950, U.S. farms have become remarkably more efficient, but this hasn't made them more profitable. "The fact of the matter is that as agricultural productivity has increased and as real prices of agricultural commodities have fallen, farmers' per-unit profit margins have also fallen," Hallberg explains. "This combination of events has forced farmers to increase the number of units (acres, dairy cows, hogs, layers or broilers, etc.) they manage just to generate enough income to maintain the family's standard of living. In other words, farmers who remain in business are forced to farm larger and larger units." 

Statistical tables chart the changing relationships of farm numbers, land use, farm income, prices, debt, consumer behavior and marketing over the past five decades. Agricultural productivity of farm workers, for example, has increased nearly five-fold over this period as the number of people fed per farm worker has grown from 15 in 1950 to 96 in 1998. 

At the end of the century, America was still 25 percent rural, but there were fewer farms, fewer farm workers and fewer farm families in the U.S. than ever before. 

Is this trend destined to continue into the 21st century? Probably, but Hallberg's analysis of the statistics also pointed to a counter trend that emerged during the 1990s: less mechanization, some stabilization in farm size, and some stabilization in labor. 

"If in the future farmers refuse to buy more and bigger machines, they are not likely to be able to farm larger acreages. Thus, farm sizes could be expected to remain fairly stable if this phenomenon continues," Hallberg concluded. 

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Economic Trends in U.S. Agriculture and Food Systems Since World War II 
A graphical display and short discussion of crucial issues for understanding agriculturalpolicy. A textbook for undergraduate and graduate students in agricultural economics, 
based on the author's lectures from the past few years. Also of interest to individuals 
working in the field or interested in the evolution of agriculture.

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