Farming Facts
Farming Facts

67 Interesting Farming Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published March 15, 2017Updated October 4, 2019
  • Farming began around 10,000 B.C. during the First Agricultural Revolution, when nomadic tribes began to farm. Additionally, this is when the eight so-called “founder crops” of agriculture appeared: 1) emmer wheat, 2) einkorn wheat, 3) hulled barley, 4) peas, 5) lentils, 6) bitter vetch, 7) chickpeas, and 8) flax.[14]
  • The Industrial Revolution led to faster and more efficient farming technology, which helped usher in the Second Agricultural Revolution from 1700 to 1900 in developed countries. Many less developed countries are still experiencing the Second Agricultural Revolution.[7]
  • The Third Agricultural Revolution, or the Green Revolution, corresponds in the late 20th century with the exponential population growth occurring around the world. It includes biotechnology, genetic engineering, chemical fertilizers, and mass production of agricultural goods.[7]
  • Subsistence farmers are farmers who produce the food they need to survive on a daily basis. They are farmers who raise enough food for themselves and their families. The food is not intended to be sold in a market.[14]
  • Fruit farming began sometime between 6000 and 3000 B.C. Figs were one of the first cultivated fruit crops.[9]
  • Interesting Fact about Farming
    Americans spend 10% of their income on food
  • Americans spend 10% of their income on food, which is the lowest of any country.[11]
  • Plows were invented in the Middle East soon after agriculture began. The earliest plow, called an ard, was probably made from sharpened tree branches. The plow has been cited as one of the most important inventions in the advancement of society.[9]
  • The Mesopotamians built the first simple irrigation system around 7000 B.C. The earliest large-scale irrigation system was created around 4000 B.C. in southern Russia. This system had canals up to 10 feet across and more than a mile long.[9]
  • In A.D. 644, Arab scientists developed a windmill to pump water for irrigation. By the year 1000, Arabs introduced fertilizers to enrich farm soil.[9]
  • In the early 1900s, Mary Isabel Fraser visited China and brought back seeds to New Zealand. She grew the first crop of kiwi in 1910. Today, New Zealand produces 1/3 of the world’s supply of kiwi.[9]
  • More than 6,000 different kinds of apples are grown around the world. The biggest producer is China, followed by the United States, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Italy, and India.[9]
  • Tractors were invented in the 1880s to pull plows through fields. By the 1920s the all purpose, modern tractor had been developed. With different attachments, tractors can be used for plowing, planting, cultivating, mowing, harvesting, and moving soil and heavy equipment.[9]
  • Farmers often plant tall, dense trees on the edges of fruit farms. These trees provide a windbreak, which helps prevent soil erosion.[9]
  • The tallest, biggest trees or bushes do not always yield the most fruit. Controlling the height of plants helps produce more fruit in less space. Farmers may also change a tree’s shape by cutting branches or forcing branches to grow in a certain direction. The shape of the tree affects its lifespan and the size of its fruit.[9]
  • The Fertile Crescent is the site of the earliest planned sowing and harvesting of plants.[9]
  • The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

    - Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution 

  • Because it is illegal to hunt alligators in the U.S., alligator meat must be purchased from farms. Once an alligator is 5 to 7 feet long, it is ready to be slaughtered for meat, hide, and teeth.[8]
  • Guinea pig farms can be found in Peru and other Latin American countries. In Peru, about 65 million guinea pigs are eaten every year.[8]
  • In the United States and other developed countries, most livestock is raised on large factory farms called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. The largest CAFOs house poultry and contain more than 125,000 chickens at one time.[1]
  • Raising beef cattle is the single largest segment of American agriculture. The United States produces more beef than any other country. About 34 million cows are slaughtered in the U.S. each year.[8]
  • Popular movies about farming include Country (1984), The River (1984), Out of Africa (1985), Giant (1956), and The Big Country (1958).[10]
  • There are around 2.2 million farms in the United States.[6]
  • U.S. dairy farmers receive less than $1.32 per gallon of milk they produce. The average retail price of milk $2.76. The average cow produces 7 gallons of milk a day, 2,100 pounds of milk a month, and 46,000 glasses of milk a year. There are 350 squirts in a gallon of milk.[11]
  • Approximately 97% of U.S. farms are operated by families, family partnerships, or family corporations.[2]
  • Farm and ranch families comprise just 2% of the U.S. population.[2]
  • Bananas are the number one fruit crop in the world. They are the 4th largest overall crop, after wheat, rice, and corn.  India grows more bananas than any other country. The Philippines, China, and Ecuador are the next three top producers of bananas.[9]
  • Interesting Agriculture Fact
    Bananas are the number one fruit crop in the world

  • Farmers today produce 262% more food with 2% fewer inputs (such as seeds, labor, fertilizers) than they did in 1950.[9]
  • One in three farm acres is planted for export.[9]
  • In 2006, the average American farmer grew enough food for 144 other people. In 1940, the average farmer grew food for 19 other people (which was close to enough food).[11]
  • Farming employs more than 24 million American workers (17% of the total workforce).[14]
  • According to many historians, goats were the first animal to be domesticated. Goats are typically the cleanest of animals. They are much more select feeders than cows, chickens, or even dogs. They typically will not eat food that has been contaminated or that has been on the floor or ground.[14]
  • Pigs, a common farm animal, are thought to be the 4th most intelligent animal, after chimps, dolphins, and elephants. A group of pigs is called a sounder. Pigs can also run 11 miles per hour, which is faster than a 6-minute mile.[8]
  • More than 100 agricultural crops in the U.S. are pollinated by bees. In fact, one out of three bites of food people eat is thanks to honeybees.[9]
  • Bees contribute to more than $15 billion worth of crops every year through pollination.[9]
  • According to the U.S Census, a farm is any establishment which produces and sells, or normally would have produced or sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the year. Government subsidies are included in sales.[2]
  • In 2007, just 187,816 of the 2.2 million farms in the United States accounted for 63% of sales of agricultural products, marking a trend toward the concentration in agricultural production.[2]
  • Agricultural efficiency has increased over the past century from 27.5 acres/worker in 1890 to 740 acres/worker in 1990.[2]
  • Seeds had to be scattered by hand until Jethro Tull’s seed drill (developed in 1701) made it possible to plant seeds in rows, which could then be easily hoed.[14]
  • Interesting Farm Fact
    The seed drill allowed crops to be planted in neat rows

  • According to the UN, an exploding world population, intensive farming practices, and changes in climate have provided a breeding ground for an unprecedented number of emerging diseases. Poultry farming, for example, may account for the global spread of bird flu. In fact, the majority of the 39 new diseases that have emerged in just one generation have come from animals, including Ebola, SARS, and the bird flu.[3]
  • Today’s farmers grow more than “food, feed, and fiber”—they also grow crops that are processed into fuel. For example, corn can be made into ethanol and soybean oil can be made into diesel fuel.[11]
  • Robert Newman was banned from all farms in the United Kingdom in August 2013 for having sex with a goat.[13]
  • Although only 2.4% of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides, respectively.[4]
  • People living near factory farms often suffer from headaches, nausea, and respiratory distress due to the effects of factory pollution. Factory farms are those that pack hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of cows, pigs, chickens into the farms.[8]
  • In 2012, U.S. farms and ranches spent $329 billion to produce $388 billion in goods.[6]
  • Owning and controlling a farm has historically been linked to status and power, especially in Medieval European agrarian societies. Farm ownership has also been historically linked to types of government (feudalism, democracy, etc.).[14]
  • The word “farm” is from the Old French ferme, meaning to “rent, lease,” and the Latin firmare, “to fix, settle, confirm, strengthen.”[5]
  • The United States exported $136 billion in farm goods in 2011, with a $37 billion trade surplus.[6]
  • The world population will jump from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. Farmers will need to double food production by then to keep pace.[14]
  • Livestock farming feeds billions of people and employs 1.3 billion people. That means about 1 in 5 people on Earth work in some aspect of the livestock farming.[8]
  • Interesting Farming Fact
    Livestock farming employs 1.3 billion people

  • For every $1 spent on food, farmers get less than 12 cents for the raw product.[6]
  • The phrase “fetch the farm” is prisoner slang from at least 1879 for “get sent to the infirmary,” where there is a better diet and not as much hard labor.[5]
  • The phrase “buy the farm” is WWII slang meaning to die or get killed.[5]
  • The Dust Bowl forced tens of thousands of farmers, known as Oakies, to leave their farms. The Dust Bowl exodus was the largest migration in American history.[14]
  • In 1830, it took about 250 to 300 labor hours to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat. In 1975, it took just 3¾ hours.[7]
  • In 1890-99 the average consumption of commercial fertilizer was 1,845,900 tons per year. From 1980-89 it was 47,411,166 tons per year.[7]
  • In 1954, the number of tractors on farms surpassed the number of horses and mules for the first time.[7]
  • Henry A. Wallace (October 7, 1888—November 18, 1965) was Secretary of Agriculture and supported government intervention in farming practices. For example, he ordered slaughtering pigs and plowing up cotton fields in rural America to help increase the price of these commodities in order to help the economic situation of American farmers.[14]
  • Fritz Haber (December 1868—January 1934) co-developed with Carl Bosch the process of ammonia synthesis, which is known today as the “Haber Synthesis.” While his work led to the production of nitrogen fertilizer, which has helped to feed billions of people (the entire global population, in fact), he also contributed to human destruction with his involvement in chemical agents during WWI.[14]
  • Cyrus McCormick is considered the “Father of Modern Agriculture.” He invented the world’s first mechanical reaper in 1831, which helped replace manpower for machine power to harvest crops. His invention is often cited as key in the westward expansion of the United States. Jo Anderson, a slave, also worked with McCormick to develop the mechanical reaper.[14]
  • Eli Whitney’s (1765—1825) invention of the cotton gin catapulted the rise of cotton production in the Deep South which, some historians note, led to an increase in slavery and contributed to slavery issues.[14]
  • Interesting Farmer Fact
    Approximately 60% of the farmers in the United States are 55 years old or older
  • Approximately 60% of the farmers in the United States are 55 years old or older. Aging farmers have led to concern about the long-term health of family farms.[2]
  • Most concerns about genetically modified crops fall into three categories: 1) environmental hazards, 2) human health risks, and 3) economic concerns.[12]
  • Monsanto Company is the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed.[12]
  • Total global cropland amounts to roughly 1.5 billion hectares. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) make up more than 11% of all cropland in the world.[12]
  • The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India plant most of the GMO cropland. More than 152 million of the world’s 170 million GMO hectares are found in these five countries.[12]
  • The four major biotech crops in 2012 were soybean, cotton, maize, and canola.[12]
  • Research suggests that the increased use of herbicide designed to work with GMOs (and vice versa) are starting to create “superweeds” that resist chemicals.[12]
  • In 2012, 17 million farmers in 28 countries planted 170 million hectares of biotech crops.[12]
  • Farm Machinery and Technology Timeline[7][14]
    18th centuryOxen and horse are used for power with crude wooden plows, sowing is done by hand, land is cultivated by hoe, hay and grain are cut by sickle, and threshing with is done with a flail
    1790Cradle and scythe are introduced
    1793Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, which contributes to the success of cotton as a Southern cash crop
    1797Charles Newbold patents first-ever cast iron plow
    1801Thomas Moore of Maryland invents the icebox refrigerator
    1819Jethro Wood patents iron plow with interchangeable parts
    1819-25U.S. canning industry is established
    1834McCormick reaper is patented; John Lane manufactures plows faced with steel saw blades
    1837John Deere and Leonard Andrus begin manufacturing steel plows; practical threshers are patented
    1840sFactory-made agriculture machinery increases farmers? need for cash and encourages commercial farming
    1841Practical grain drill patented
    1842First grain elevator in Buffalo, NY
    1843Sir John Lawes develops a process for making superphosphate, which helps established the commercial fertilizing industry
    1849Mixed chemical fertilizers are sold commercially
    1856The tow-horse straddle-row cultivator is patented
    1858Mason jars, which are used in home canning, are invented
    1862-1875The move from hand power to horsepower ushers in the first American Agricultural Revolution
    1874Glidden barbed wire is patented, which ends an era of unrestricted, open range grazing
    1880William Deering puts 3,000 twine binders on the market
    1881Hybridized corn is produced
    1892John Froelich invents the first gasoline-powered tractor
    1945-70The change from horses to tractors along with increasing technology mark the Second American Agricultural Revolution
    1959The mechanical tomato harvester is invented
    1968Approximately 96% of cotton is harvested mechanically
    1980sMore farmers use no-till or low-till methods to curb erosion
    1990sInformation technology and precision techniques are increasingly used in agriculture
    1994Farmers begin to use satellite technology to track and plan their farming practices
    1997The first weed- and insect-resistant biotech crops?soybeans and cotton?are available commercially

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