A typical farm or ranch at the beginning of the century produced a wider variety of commodities than those operating at the end of the century. Farm operators and the country’s population were much more self-sufficient 100 years ago. Farms and ranches are now much more specialized, with a small number of operators producing the majority of agricultural products consumed today.
At the beginning of the 20th century about 50 percent or more of all farms were involved in the production of vegetables, Irish potatoes, fruit-producing trees, and feed for livestock and draft animals. Much of this produce was consumed on the farm, traded, or sold locally.
Similarly, when reviewing livestock found on farms and ranches, it is apparent that chickens, horses, milk cows, and hogs were present on the majority of farms a century ago. Today, a comparatively small proportion of farms maintain these animals.
The consumer’s market basket has also changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Early in the century, home-grown fruits, vegetables, oats, and wheat were considered staples. Later on, families increasingly purchased and stocked their shelves with canned, frozen, and instant food products. This trend reversed itself slightly later in the century as health-conscious consumers began to include more fresh food in their diets. However, most of what is consumed today continues to move from the farm gate to the processor, and then to the grocery store.
The country’s population, as a whole, became wealthier and increased its demand for food products over most of the century. Late in the century, however, the country reached a point of economic comfort where increases in income no longer raised domestic demand for food products. As a result, U.S. farmers and ranchers began to rely more heavily on export markets to sell their excess production and have truly become food producers to the world.
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Last modified: 08/11/09