Agriculture is a major industry in the United States, which is a net exporter of food. As of the 2007 census of agriculture, there were 2.2 million farms, covering an area of 922 million acres (3,730,000 km2), an average of 418 acres (169 hectares) per farm. Although agricultural activity occurs in every state in the union, it is particularly concentrated in the Great Plains, a vast expanse of flat, arable land in the center of the nation in the region around the Great Lakes known as the Corn Belt.
The U.S. was a leader in seed improvement i.e. hybridization and in expanding uses for crops from the work of George Washington Carver to the development of bioplastics and biofuels. The mechanization of farming and intensive farming have been major themes in U.S. history, including John Deere's steel plow, Cyrus McCormick's mechanical reaper, Eli Whitney's cotton gin to the widespread success of the Fordson tractor and the combine harvesters first made from them. Modern agriculture in the U.S. ranges from the common hobby farms, small-scale producers to large commercial farming covering thousands of acres of cropland or rangeland.
European agricultural practices greatly affected the New England landscape. Colonists brought livestock over from Europe which caused many changes to the land. Grazing animals required a lot of land and food and the act of grazing itself destroyed native grasses, which were being replaced by European species. New species of weeds were introduced and began to thrive as they were capable of withstanding the grazing of animals, whereas native species could not.
The practices associated with keeping livestock also contributed to the deterioration of the forests and fields. Colonists would cut down the trees and then allow their cattle and livestock to graze freely in the forest and never plant more trees. The animals trampled and tore up the ground so much as to cause long-term destruction and damage.
Soil exhaustion was a huge problem in New England agriculture. Farming with oxen did allow the colonist to farm more land but it increased erosion and decreased soil fertility. This was due to deeper plow cuts in the soil that allowed the soil more contact with oxygen causing nutrient depletion. In grazing fields, the large number of cattle in the New England, the soil was being compacted by the cattle and this did not give the soil enough oxygen to sustain life.
In the United States, farms spread from the colonies westward along with the settlers. In cooler regions, wheat was often the crop of choice when lands were newly settled, leading to a "wheat frontier" that moved westward over the course of years. Also very common in the antebellum Midwest was farming corn while raising hogs, complementing each other especially since it was difficult to get grain to market before the canals and railroads. After the "wheat frontier" had passed through an area, more diversified farms including dairy cattle generally took its place. Warmer regions saw plantings of cotton and herds of beef cattle. In the early colonial south, raising tobacco and cotton was common, especially through the use of slave labor until the Civil War. In the northeast, slaves were used in agriculture until the early 19th century. In the Midwest, slavery was prohibited by the Freedom Ordinance of 1787.
The introduction and broad adoption of scientific agriculture since the mid-19th century contributed to economic growth in the United States. This development was facilitated by the Morrill Act and the Hatch Act of 1887 which established in each state a land-grant university (with a mission to teach and study agriculture) and a federally funded system of agricultural experiment stations and cooperative extension networks which place extension agents in each state.
Soybeans were not widely cultivated in the United States until the early 1930s, and by 1942 it became the world's largest soybean producer, due in part to World War II and the "need for domestic sources of fats, oils, and meal". Between 1930 and 1942, the United States' share of world soybean production grew from 3% to 47%, and by 1969 it had risen to 76%. By 1973 soybeans were the United States' "number one cash crop, and leading export commodity, ahead of both wheat and corn".
Significant areas of farmland were abandoned during the Great Depression and incorporated into nascent national forests. Later, "Sodbuster" and "Swampbuster" restrictions written into federal farm programs starting in the 1970s reversed a decades-long trend of habitat destruction that began in 1942 when farmers were encouraged to plant all possible land in support of the war effort. In the United States, federal programs administered through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts provide technical assistance and partial funding to farmers who wish to implement management practices to conserve soil and limit erosion and floods.
|Millions of Tonnes in||2003||2013|
|Cow's milk, whole, fresh||77.0||91.0|
The only other crops to ever appear in the top 20 in the last 40 years were, commonly: tobacco, barley, and oats, and, rarely: peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Alfalfa and hay would both be in the top ten in 2003 if they were tracked by FAO.
|Major Crops in the U.S.||1997
(in US$ billions)
(in US$ billions)
|Source||1997 USDA – NASS reports,||2015 USDA-NASS reports,|
Note alfalfa and hay are not tracked by the FAO and the production of tobacco in the United States has fallen 60% between 1997 and 2003.
Heavily mechanized, U.S. agriculture has a high yield relative to other countries. As of 2004:
The major livestock industries in the United States:
|Cattle and calves||99,907,017||95,497,994||96,347,858||89,994,614|
|Hogs and pigs||61,188,149||60,405,103||67,786,318||66,026,785|
|Sheep and lambs||8,083,457||6,341,799||5,819,162||5,364,844|
& other meat chickens
Goats, horses, turkeys and bees are also raised, though in lesser quantities. Inventory data is not as readily available as for the major industries. For the three major goat-producing states—Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—there were 1.2 million goats at the end of 2002. There were 5.3 million horses in the United States at the end of 1998. There were 2.5 million colonies of bees at the end of 2005.
One characteristic of the agricultural industry that sets it apart from others is the number of individuals who are self-employed. Frequently, farmers and ranchers are both the principal operator, the individual responsible for successful management and day-to-day decisions, and the primary laborer for his or her operation. For agricultural workers that sustain an injury, the resultant loss of work has implications on physical health and financial stability.
Agriculture in the United States is primarily governed by periodically renewed U.S. farm bills. Governance is both a federal and a local responsibility with the United States Department of Agriculture being the federal department responsible. Government aid includes research into crop types and regional suitability as well as many kinds of subsidies, some price supports and loan programs. U.S. farmers are not subject to production quotas and some laws are different for farms compared to other workplaces.
Labor laws prohibiting children in other workplaces provide some exemptions for children working on farms with complete exemptions for children working on their family's farm. Children can also gain permits from vocational training schools or the 4-H club which allow them to do jobs they would otherwise not be permitted to do.
A large part of the U.S. farm workforce is made up of migrant and seasonal workers, many of them recent immigrants from Latin America. Additional laws apply to these workers and their housing which is often provided by the farmer.
In 2012, there were 3.2 million farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers and an estimated 757,900 agricultural workers were legally employed in the US. Animal breeders accounted for 11,500 of those workers with the rest categorized as miscellaneous agricultural workers. The median pay was $9.12 per hour or $18,970 per year. In 2009, about 519,000 people under age 20 worked on farms owned by their family. In addition to the youth who lived on family farms, an additional 230,000 youth were employed in agriculture. In 2004, women made up approximately 24% of farmers; that year, there were 580,000 women employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
From 1999–2009, roughly 50% of hired crop farmworkers in the U.S. were noncitizens working without legal authorization. Large farms rely on new immigrants (such as Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, and Mexican) that do not have many other options to work for extremely low wages. The legal status of the worker has been shown to impact the wage received for a job. An agricultural worker with no documentation earns an average of 15% less than one with amnesty or green card. Moreover, it has been found that undocumented workers have decreased mobility in the agricultural industry because they are less able to have high-skill and high-earning jobs (jobs that are similar to their documented counterparts). These first generation immigrants may remain as farm laborers seasonally for ten years. As they age, they grow poorer due to less skills, resources, and education. The United States passed a special provision in 1986 called the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) under which the Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) program granted amnesty to some agricultural laborers because of the importance of these workers to the industry. Though this slightly improved the lives of some workers, many more live in poverty and without benefits today. For example, though these workers face many occupational hazards, they are not insured nor protected by government provisions such as the Affordable Care Act. Instead, SAWs rely on Community and Migrant Health Centers that are built to serve this population (though these also suffer from lack of funding and healthcare workers).
Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries due to the use of chemicals and risk of injury. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries (general traumatic injury and musculoskeletal injury), work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, chemical-related illnesses, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure. In an average year, 516 workers die doing farm work in the U.S. (1992–2005). Every day, about 243 agricultural workers suffer lost-work-time injuries, and about 5% of these result in permanent impairment. Tractor overturns are the leading cause of agriculture-related fatal injuries, and account for over 90 deaths every year. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends the use of roll over protection structures on tractors to reduce the risk of overturn-related fatal injuries.
Farming is one of the few industries in which families (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death. Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers, accounting for 42% of all work-related fatalities of young workers in the U.S. between 1992 and 2000. In 2011, 108 youth, less than 20 years of age, died from farm-related injuries. Unlike other industries, half the young victims in agriculture were under age 15. For young agricultural workers aged 15–17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces Agricultural work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, work at elevations, and work around livestock. The most common causes of fatal farm-related youth injuries involve machinery, motor vehicles, or drowning. Together these three causes comprise more than half of all fatal injuries to youth on U.S. farms. Women in agriculture (including the related industries of forestry and fishing) numbered 556,000 in 2011.
Agriculture in the U.S. makes up approximately 75% of the country's pesticide use. Agricultural workers are at high risk for being exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides, whether or not they are directly working with the chemicals. Migrant workers, especially women, are at higher risk for health issues associated with pesticide exposure due to lack of training or appropriate safety precautions.
Some U.S. research centers are focused on the topic of health and safety in agricultural practices. These centers not only conduct research on the subject of occupational disease and injury prevention, but also promote agricultural health and safety through educational outreach programs. Most of these groups are funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the US Department of Agriculture, or other state agencies. Centers include:
The number of women working in agriculture has risen and the 2002 census of agriculture recorded a 40% increase in the number of female farm workers. Inequality and respect are common issues for these workers, as many have reported that they are not being respected, listened to, or taken seriously due to traditional views of women as housewives and caretakers.
Women may also face resistance when attempting to advance to higher positions. Other issues reported by female farm workers include receiving less pay than their male counterparts and a refusal or reluctance by their employers to offer their female workers the same additional benefits given to male workers such as housing.
The role of African Americans in the agricultural history of the United States is extremely important. Given that the majority of blacks were employed in agriculture in the United States, particularly during the 19th and early 20th century, represents a major part of their history and the economic progress of the nation.Agrihood
An agrihood is an organized community that integrates agriculture into a residential neighborhood. The purpose of these communities is to facilitate food production while at the same time providing recreation for members of the community. The trend of moving to agrihoods has been noted by a number of sources to be more common among millennials.Black Dirt Region
The Black Dirt Region is located in southern Orange County, New York and northern Sussex County, New Jersey. It is mostly located in the western section of the Town of Warwick, centered on the hamlet of Pine Island. Some sections spill over into adjacent portions of the towns of Chester, Goshen and Wawayanda in New York and parts of Wantage and Vernon, New Jersey. Before the region was drained, around 1880 by the Polish and Volga German immigrants through drainage culverts and the construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, it was a densely-vegetated marsh known as the "Drowned Lands of the Wallkill"
The Black Dirt Region takes its name from the dark, extremely fertile soil left over from an ancient glacial lake bottom augmented by decades of past flooding of the Wallkill River. The 26,000 acres (10,400 ha) of muck left over is the largest concentration of such soil in the United States outside the Florida Everglades.Cowman (profession)
A cowman is a person who works specifically with cattle.Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent the aeolian processes (wind erosion) caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers' decisions to convert arid grassland (much of which received no more than 10 inches (~250 mm) of precipitation per year) to cultivated cropland.During the drought of the 1930s, the unanchored soil turned to dust, which the prevailing winds blew away in huge clouds that sometimes blackened the sky. These choking billows of dust – named "black blizzards" or "black rollers" – traveled cross country, reaching as far as the East Coast and striking such cities as New York City and Washington, D.C. On the plains, they often reduced visibility to 3 feet (1 m) or less. Associated Press reporter Robert E. Geiger happened to be in Boise City, Oklahoma, to witness the "Black Sunday" black blizzards of April 14, 1935; Edward Stanley, Kansas City news editor of the Associated Press coined the term "Dust Bowl" while rewriting Geiger's news story. While the term "the Dust Bowl" was originally a reference to the geographical area affected by the dust, today it usually refers to the event itself (the term "Dirty Thirties" is also sometimes used).
The drought and erosion of the Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2) that centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.The Dust Bowl forced tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families to abandon their farms, unable to pay mortgages or grow crops, and losses reached $25 million per day by 1936 (equivalent to $450,000,000 in 2018). Many of these families, who were often known as "Okies" because so many of them came from Oklahoma, migrated to California and other states to find that the Great Depression had rendered economic conditions there little better than those they had left.
The Dust Bowl has been the subject of many cultural works, notably the novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck, the folk music of Woody Guthrie, and photographs depicting the conditions of migrants by Dorothea Lange.Eastern Agricultural Complex
The Eastern Agricultural Complex was one of about 10 independent centers of plant domestication in the pre-historic world. By about 1,800 BCE the Native Americans of North America were cultivating for food several species of plants, thus transitioning from a hunter-gatherer economy to agriculture. After 200 BCE when maize from Mexico was introduced to what is now the eastern United States, the Native Americans of the present-day United States and Canada slowly changed from growing local indigenous plants to a maize-based agricultural economy. The cultivation of local indigenous plants other than squash, declined and was eventually abandoned. The formerly domesticated plants, except for squash, returned to their wild forms.The initial four plants known to have been domesticated were goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), sunflower (Helianthus annuus var. macrocarpus), marsh elder (Iva annua var. macrocarpa), and squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera). Several other species of plants were later domesticated.Horse industry
The horse industry, or equine industry, is the economic activity associated with horses. This includes core agribusiness activities related to the use, possession or ownership of horses, as well as leisure activities and related economic activity that provides associated goods and services.Businesses directly or indirectly related to horses include equine nutrition, equipment, publications, veterinary care, education, and sports clothing. In the U.S., about 6 percent of veterinarians specialize in horse care, within the larger field of large animal veterinary care.Land Rush of 1889
The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 was the first land rush into the Unassigned Lands. The area that was opened to settlement included all or part of the Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties of the US state of Oklahoma. The land run started at high noon on April 22, 1889, with an estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres (8,000 km2).The Unassigned Lands were considered some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 was passed and signed into law with an amendment by Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the two million acres (8,000 km²) for settlement. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed settlers to claim lots of up to 160 acres (0.65 km2), provided that they lived on the land and improved it.Land run
A land run or land rush were events in which previously restricted land of the United States was opened to homestead on a first-arrival basis. Lands were opened and sold first-come or by bid, or won by lottery, or by means other than a run. The settlers, no matter how they acquired occupancy, purchased the land from the United States Land Office. For former Indian lands, the Land Office distributed the sales funds to the various tribal entities, according to previously negotiated terms. The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 was the most prominent of the land runs while the Land Run of 1893 was the largest. The opening of the former Kickapoo area in 1895 was the last use of a land run in the present area of Oklahoma.Mother Orange Tree
The Mother Orange Tree is the oldest living orange tree in Northern California. The California Historical Landmark is currently located at 400 Glen Drive in Oroville, California.Single-grain experiment
The single-grain experiment was an experiment carried out at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from May 1907 to 1911. The experiment tested if cows could survive on a single type of grain. The experiment would lead to the development of modern nutritional science.Sooners
Sooners is the name given to settlers who entered the Unassigned Lands in what is now the state of Oklahoma before the official start of the Land Rush of 1889. President Benjamin Harrison officially proclaimed the Unassigned Lands open to settlement on April 22, 1889. As people lined up around the borders of the Oklahoma District, they waited for the official opening. It was not until noon that it officially was opened to settlement. The name derived from the "sooner clause" of Proclamation 288 — Opening to Settlement Certain Lands in the Indian Territory, which stated that anyone who entered and occupied the land prior to the opening time would be denied the right to claim land.According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, the designation "Sooner" initially had a very negative connotation. However, the negative connotation began to change by the time of statehood, and is no longer considered negative by most residents. In 1908, University of Oklahoma football team adopted the nickname "Sooners". The U.S. state of Oklahoma has been popularly nicknamed the "Sooner State" since the 1920s.Tea production in the United States
Camellia sinensis can be grown in warmer parts of the United States and currently the US mainland has a relatively large plantation with full mechanization in Charleston, South Carolina, and numerous small number of commercial tea gardens and smaller artisan operations that currently pick tea by hand. Many smaller sites are looking to mechanize, at least partially, within the next 5 years. Some growers feel that tea production is not viable without some mechanization, but there is evidence that unmechanized tea production is viable, albeit with lower net profit margins. Most domestically grown teas are available through mail order and online purchases. The Charleston Tea Plantation's American Classic Tea brand is carried in Walmart under the American Choice label.Commercial farms are springing up all across the USA, with producing farms located in the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon. Off the mainland, there is a collective of roughly 40 small growers in Hawaii. There are also a handful of commercial farms in the process of being developed in the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, New York and Texas, but they have yet reach the point of selling product to the general public on a regular basis. The US League of Tea Growers is an organized tea farming group that has formed in 2013 to address matters related to small tea growing in the USA.Three Sisters (agriculture)
The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of various Native American groups in North America: winter squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans). Originating in Mexico, these three crops were carried northward, up the river valleys over generations of time, far afield to the Mandan and Iroquois who, among others, used these "Three Sisters" as trade goods.
In a technique known as companion planting the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. Each mound is about 30 cm (12 in) high and 50 cm (20 in) wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together in the center of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is 15 cm (6 inches) tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds. The process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Squash was domesticated first, with maize second and then beans being domesticated. Squash was first domesticated 8,000–10,000 years ago.The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all nine essential amino acids, allowing most Native American tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet.Native Americans throughout North America are known for growing variations of Three Sisters gardens. The milpas of Mesoamerica are farms or gardens that employ companion planting on a larger scale. The Ancestral Puebloans are known for adopting this garden design in a drier environment. The Tewa and other peoples of the Southwestern United States often included a "fourth Sister", Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata), which attracts bees to help pollinate the beans and squash.The Three Sisters planting method is featured on the reverse of the 2009 US Sacagawea dollar.U.S. Farm Report
The U.S. Farm Report (USFR) is a weekly syndicated United States television news program, presented in magazine format, which has a focus on agriculture and agribusiness.
USFR is currently hosted by Tyne Morgan and is based in South Bend, Indiana. The program is owned by Farm Journal Media, a Philadelphia-based company that owns a number of agricultural media properties including Farm Journal magazine.
Streaming full USFR episodes are available on the station's web site.United States House Committee on Agriculture
The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, or Agriculture Committee is a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives. The House Committee on Agriculture has general jurisdiction over federal agriculture policy and oversight of some federal agencies, and it can recommend funding appropriations for various governmental agencies, programs, and activities, as defined by House rules.United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is a committee of the United States Senate empowered with legislative oversight of all matters relating to the nation's agriculture industry, farming programs, forestry and logging, and legislation relating to nutrition and health.Valencia orange
The Valencia orange is a sweet orange. It was first hybridized by pioneer American agronomist and land developer William Wolfskill in the mid-19th century on his farm in Santa Ana, southern California, United States, North America.
Agriculture in the United States
|State-specific by type|
|Law and politics|
Agriculture in North America
United States articles