Farmers love what they do. In 1935, there were about 7 million farms in America, the vast majority run by families. Farms stayed in the family for generations. Old MacDonald ran a standard farm.

Ninety percent of those farms were without power. The Rural Electrification Act, which brought electricity and telephones to the countryside, was passed in 1935 and farms and farming began to change.

By 1965, the majority of rural America was powered up. Now there are just over 2 million farms in the US. Those farms, however, are still owned and operated by families. But while there are fewer farms, they are more productive. A farmer in the 1960s could feed around 26 people. Today’s farmer can feed 155.

What has caused this increase in productivity? The answer is technology in various forms.

1. Farm Machinery

  • Tractors – Up into the 1960s, animal power was still used to pull wagons and plows on some American farms. When tractors replaced horses, productivity increased. More land could be plowed.
  • Plows – Modern plows can turn over multiple rows at one time.
  • Seeders – These machines plant the seeds in multiple rows at the same time.
  • Combines or combine harvesters – These huge machines have taken over the tedious work of hand picking.
  • Milking machines – Automatic machines make milking multiple cows at one time possible.
  • Automatic feeders – Barns now come with built-in machinery, such as automatic feeders.

2. Crop Management

  • Soil testing techniques – Evaluation of soil samples enables the farmer to determine what nutrients must be added in order to produce the best yield.
  • Pest control – The development of eco-friendly pesticides and herbicides, along with new fertilizers, has increased productivity per acre.
  • Land management – The science involved in crop management has advanced tremendously. Today’s farmer is a scientist.
  • Genetics – Breeding programs have been going on for many centuries, since long before Mendel. Now new, hardier, more pest resistant varieties are being produced.

3. Animal Husbandry

  • Change in environment – The biggest change is moving animals to more comfortable living conditions inside.
  • Controlled temperatures – Barns use sprinklers and fans to cool the animals during the hot summer months. Some barns are even airconditioned.
  • Protection from pests and predators. – The inside environment is protective.

4. Specialization

  • No multiple crop farms – Crop farmers now produce one, or at most two, crops per season. They are set up for corn or wheat or soybeans. It enables them to produce the greatest yield per acre in the most efficient way.
  • Single animal farms – In the past, farmers would raise beef cattle, a few dairy cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, etc. Now it’s just one animal. Dairy cattle or beef cattle, not both.
  • Sub specialization – Some farms have gone an extra step. Farrowing farms only birth pigs. That’s all they do. Other farms specializes in artificial insemination. Some in raising young animals. The narrower the focus, the more efficient the farm is.

Besides increasing the productivity of farms, these changes in farming have resulted in fewer farm workers, better educated farmers, and mechanization of the whole process. Goodbye, Old MacDonald.