History of American Agriculture

American Agriculture 1776–1990

Pivot irrigation system sits in wheat field

 

Stephen Simpson/Getty Images 

The history of American agriculture (1776–1990) covers the period from the first English settlers to the modern day. Below are detailed timelines covering farm machinery and technology, transportation, life on the farm, farmers and the land, and crops and livestock.

01
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Agricultural Advances in the United States, 1775–1889

Old, Black and White Illustration of Agricultural Scene, From 1800's

 

ideabug/Getty Images

1776–1800

During the latter part of the 18th century, farmers relied on oxen and horses to power crude wooden plows. All sowing was accomplished using a hand-held hoe, reaping of hay and grain with a sickle, and threshing with a flail. But in the 1790s, the horse-drawn cradle and scythe were introduced, the first of several inventions.

  • 16th century—Spanish cattle introduced into the Southwest 
  • 17th century—Small land grants commonly made to individual settlers; large tracts often granted to well-connected colonists  
  • 1619—First African slaves brought to Virginia; by 1700, slaves were displacing southern indentured servants 
  • 17th and 18th centuries—All forms of domestic livestock, except turkeys, were imported at some time 
  • 17th and 18th centuries—Crops borrowed from Indians included maize, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, watermelons, beans, grapes, berries, pecans, black walnuts, peanuts, maple sugar, tobacco, and cotton; white potatoes indigenous to South America 
  • 17th and 18th centuries—New U.S. crops from Europe included clover, alfalfa, timothy, small grains, and fruits and vegetables 
  • 17th and 18th centuries—African slaves introduced grain and sweet sorghum, melons, okra, and peanuts
  • 18th century—English farmers settled in New England villages; Dutch, German, Swedish, Scotch-Irish, and English farmers settled on isolated Middle Colony farmsteads; English and some French farmers settled on plantations in Tidewater and on isolated Southern Colony farmsteads in Piedmont; Spanish immigrants, mostly lower-middle-class and indentured servants, settled the Southwest and California.
  • 18th century—Tobacco was the chief cash crop of the South
  • 18th century—Ideas of progress, human perfectibility, rationality, and scientific improvement flourished in the New World 
  • 18th century—Small family farms predominated, except for plantations in southern coastal areas; housing ranged from crude log cabins to substantial frame, brick, or stone houses; farm families manufactured many necessities
  • 1776—Continental Congress offered land grants for service in the Continental Army 
  • 1785, 1787—Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 provided for survey, sale, and government of northwestern lands  
  • 1790—Total population: 3,929,214, Farmers made up about 90% of labor force  
  • 1790—The U.S. area settled extended westward an average of 255 miles; parts of the frontier crossed the Appalachians 
  • 1790-1830—Sparse immigration into the United States, mostly from the British Isles 
  • 1793—First Merino sheep imported 
  • 1793—Invention of cotton gin
  • 1794—Thomas Jefferson's moldboard of least resistance tested
  • 1794—Lancaster Turnpike opened, first successful toll road
  • 1795–1815—The sheep industry in New England was greatly emphasized
  • 1796Public Land Act of 1796 authorized Federal land sales to the public in minimum 640-acre plots at $2 per acre of credit
  • 1797—Charles Newbold patented first cast-iron plow

1800–1830

Inventions during the early decades of the 19th century were aimed at automation and preservation.

  • 1800–1830—The era of turnpike building (toll roads) improved communication and commerce between settlements 
  • 1800—Total population: 5,308,483 
  • 1803—Louisiana Purchase 
  • 1805–1815—Cotton began to replace tobacco as the chief southern cash crop 
  • 1807—Robert Fulton demonstrated the practicability of steamboats 
  • 1810—Total population: 7,239,881 
  • 1810–1815—Demand for Merino sheep sweeps the country 
  • 1810–1830—Transfer of manufactures from the farm and home to the shop and factory was greatly accelerated
  • 1815–1820—Steamboats became important in western trade
  • 1815–1825—Competition with western farm areas began to force New England farmers out of wheat and meat production and into dairying, trucking, and, later, tobacco production 
  • 1815–1830—Cotton became the most important cash crop in the Old South 
  • 1819Jethro Wood patented an iron plow with interchangeable parts
  • 1819—Florida and other land acquired through the treaty with Spain 
  • 1819– 1925—U.S. food canning industry established
  • 1820—Total population: 9,638,453 
  • 1820—Land Law of 1820 allowed purchasers to buy as little as 80 acres of public land for a minimum price of $1.25 an acre; credit system abolished
  • 1825—Erie Canal finished 
  • 1825–1840—Era of canal building

The 1830s

By the 1830s, about 250-300 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat using a walking plow, brush harrow, hand broadcast of seed, sickle, and flail.

  • 1830—Peter Cooper's railroad steam engine, the Tom Thumb, ran 13 miles 
  • 1830—Total population: 12,866,020 
  • 1830—The Mississippi River formed the approximate frontier boundary 
  • The 1830s—Beginning of railroad era
  • 1830–1837—Land speculation boom 
  • 1830s–1850s—Improved transportation to the West forced eastern staple growers into more varied production for nearby urban centers
  • 1834—McCormick reaper patented
  • 1834—John Lane began to manufacture plows faced with steel saw blades 
  • 1836–1862—Patent Office collected agricultural information and distributed seeds 
  • 1837—John Deere and Leonard Andrus began manufacturing steel plows
  • 1837—Practical threshing machine patented
  • 1839—Anti-rent war in New York, a protest against the continued collection of quitrents

The 1840s

The growing use of factory-made agricultural machinery increased the farmers' need for cash and encouraged commercial farming.

  • 1840—Justos Liebig's Organic Chemistry appeared 
  • 1840–1850—New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio were the chief wheat States 
  • 1840–1860—Hereford, Ayrshire, Galloway, Jersey, and Holstein cattle were imported and bred 
  • 1840–1860—Growth in manufacturing brought many laborsaving devices to the farm home 
  • 1840–1860—Rural housing improved with use of balloon-frame construction 
  • 1840—Total population: 17,069,453; Farm population: 9,012,000 (estimated), Farmers made up 69% of labor force 
  • 1840—3,000 miles of railroad track had been constructed 
  • 1841—Practical grain drill patented
  • 1841—Preemption Act gave squatters first rights to buy land 
  • 1842—First grain elevator, Buffalo, NY
  • 1844—Practical mowing machine patented
  • 1844—Success of the telegraph revolutionized communications 
  • 1845—Mail volume increased as postage rated lowered
  • 1845–1853—Texas, Oregon, the Mexican cession, and the Gadsden Purchase were added to the Union 
  • 1845–1855—The potato famine in Ireland and the German Revolution of 1848 greatly increased immigration 
  • 18451857—Plank road movement
  • 1846—First herdbook for Shorthorn cattle 
  • 1849—First poultry exhibition in the United States
  • 1847Irrigation began in Utah
  • 1849—Mixed chemical fertilizers sold commercially
  • 1849Gold Rush

The 1850s

By 1850, about 75–90 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels of corn (2-1/2 acres) with walking plow, harrow, and hand planting.

  • 1850—Total population: 23,191,786; Farm population: 11,680,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 64% of labor force; Number of farms: 1,449,000; Average acres: 203
  • The 1850s—Commercial corn and wheat belts began to develop; wheat occupied the newer and cheaper land west of the corn areas and was constantly being forced westward by rising land values and the encroachment of the corn areas 
  • The 1850s—Alfalfa is grown on the west coast 
  • The 1850s—Successful farming on the prairies began 
  • 1850—With the California gold rush, the frontier bypassed the Great Plains and the Rockies and moved to the Pacific coast 
  • 1850–1862—Free land was a vital rural issue 
  • The 1850s—Major railroad trunk lines from eastern cities crossed the Appalachian Mountains 
  • The 1850s—Steam and clipper ships improved overseas transportation
  • 18501870—Expanded market demand for agricultural products brought adoption of improved technology and resulting increases in farm production
  • 1854—Self-governing windmill perfected
  • 1854—Graduation Act reduced price of unsold public lands 
  • 1856—2-horse straddle-row cultivator patented
  • 1858—Grimm alfalfa introduced
  • 1859–1875—The miners' frontier moved eastward from California toward the westward-moving farmers' and ranchers frontier

The 1860s

The early 1860s witnessed a dramatic change from hand power to horses, which historians characterize as the first American agricultural revolution

  • 1860—Total population: 31,443,321; Farm population: 15,141,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 58% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,044,000; Average acres: 199 
  • The 1860s—Kerosene lamps became popular 
  • The 1860s—The Cotton Belt began to move westward 
  • The 1860s—The Corn Belt began stabilizing in its present area 
  • 1860—30,000 miles of railroad track had been laid
  • 1860—Wisconsin and Illinois were the chief wheat states 
  • 1862—Homestead Act granted 160 acres to settlers who had worked the land 5 years 
  • 1865–1870—The sharecropping system in the South replaced the old slave plantation system
  • 1865–1890—Influx of Scandinavian immigrants 
  • 1865–1890—Sod houses common on the prairies 
  • 1865-75—Gang plows and sulky plows came into use
  • 1866–1877—Cattle boom accelerated settlement of Great Plains; range wars developed between farmers and ranchers
  • 1866–1986—The days of the cattlemen on the Great Plains
  • 1868—Steam tractors were tried out
  • 1869—Illinois passed first designated "Granger" law regulating railroads 
  • 1869—Union Pacific, first transcontinental railroad, completed
  • 1869—Spring-tooth harrow or seedbed preparation appeared

The 1870s

The most important advance of the 1870s was the use of both silos, and the wide use of deep-well drilling, two advances that enabled larger farms and higher production of marketable surpluses.

  • 1870—Total population: 38,558,371; Farm population: 18,373,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 53% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,660,000; Average acres: 153
  • The 1870s —Refrigerator railroad cars introduced, increasing national markets for fruits and vegetables 
  • The 1870s—Increased specialization in farm production 
  • 1870—Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio were the chief wheat states 
  • 1870—Foot-and-mouth disease first reported in the United States 
  • 1874—Glidden barbed wire patented
  • 1874—Availability of barbed wire allowed fencing of rangeland, ending the era of unrestricted, open-range grazing
  • 1874–1876—Grasshopper plagues serious in the West 
  • 1877—U.S. Entomological Commission established for work on grasshopper control

The 1880s

  • 1880—Total population: 50,155,783; Farm population: 22,981,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 49% of labor force; Number of farms: 4,009,000; Average acres: 134 
  • The 1880s—Heavy agricultural settlement on the Great Plains began 
  • The 1880s—The cattle industry moved into the western and southwestern Great Plains
  • 1880—Most humid land already settled 
  • 1880—William Deering put 3,000 twine binders on the market
  • 1880—160,506 miles of railroad in operation 
  • 1882—Bordeau mixture (fungicide) discovered in France and soon used in the United States
  • 1882—Robert Koch discovered tubercle bacillus 
  • 1880–1914—Most immigrants were from southeastern Europe 
  • Mid–1880s—Texas was becoming the chief cotton state 
  • 1884-90—Horse-drawn combine used in Pacific coast wheat areas
  • 1886–1887—Blizzards, following drought and overgrazing, disastrous to northern Great Plains cattle industry
  • 1887—Interstate Commerce Act
  • 1887–1897—Drought reduced settlement on the Great Plains
  • 1889—Bureau of Animal Industry discovered carrier of tick fever

The 1890s

By 1890, labor costs continued to decrease, with only 35-40 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2-1/2 acres) of corn, because of technological advances of the 2-bottom gang plow, disk and peg-tooth harrow, and 2-row planters; and 40-50 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with gang plow, seeder, harrow, binder, thresher, wagons, and horses.

  • 1890—Total population: 62,941,714; Farm population: 29,414,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 43% of labor force; Number of farms: 4,565,000; Average acres: 136 
  • The 1890s—Increases in land under cultivation and number of immigrants becoming farmers caused great rise in agricultural output 
  • The 1890s—Agriculture became increasingly mechanized and commercialized
  • 1890—Census showed that the frontier settlement era was over
  • 1890—Minnesota, California, and Illinois were the chief wheat states 
  • 1890—Babcock butterfat test devised 
  • 1890-95—Cream separators came into wide use
  • 1890-99—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 1,845,900 tons 
  • 1890—Most basic potentialities of agricultural machinery that was dependent on horsepower had been discovered
  • 1892—Boll weevil crossed the Rio Grande and began to spread north and east 
  • 1892—Eradication of pleuropneumonia 
  • 1893–1905—Period of railroad consolidation
  • 1895—George B. Seldon was granted U.S. Patent for automobile 
  • 1896—Rural Free Delivery (RFD) started
  • 1899—Improved method of anthrax inoculation

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02
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Agricultural Advances in the United States, 1900-1949

Agriculture in the San Fernando Valley, ca. 1920
Migrant laborers work in a field in Southern California in 1920.

 

Kirn Vintage Stock /Getty Images

The 1900s

The first decades of the 20th century saw the efforts of George Washington Carver, director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute, whose pioneering work finding new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans helped to diversify southern agriculture.

  • 1900—Total population: 75,994,266; Farm population: 29,414,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 38% of labor force; Number of farms: 5,740,000; Average acres: 147
  • 1900–1909—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 3,738,300
  • 1900–1910—Turkey red wheat was becoming important as commercial crop 
  • 1900–1920—Urban influences on rural life intensified 
  • 1900–1920—Continued agricultural settlement on the Great Plains 
  • 1900–1920—Extensive experimental work was carried out to breed disease-resistant varieties of plants, to improve plant yield and quality, and to increase the productivity of farm animal strains 
  • 1903—Hog cholera serum developed
  • 1904—First serious stem-rust epidemic affecting wheat
  • 1908Model T Ford paved way for mass production of automobiles 
  • 1908—President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission was established and focused attention on the problems of farm wives and the difficulty of keeping children on the farm 
  • 1908–1917—Period of the country-life movement
  • 1909—The Wright Brothers demonstrated the airplane

The 1910s

  • 1910–1915—Big open-geared gas tractors came into use in areas of extensive farming
  • 1910–1919—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,116,700 tons
  • 1910–1920—Grain production reached into the most arid sections of the Great Plains 
  • 1910–1925—Period of road building accompanied increased use of automobiles 
  • 1910–1925—Period of road building accompanied increased use of automobiles 
  • 1910–1935—States and territories required tuberculin testing of all entering cattle 
  • 1910—North Dakota, Kansas, and Minnesota were the chief wheat states 
  • 1910—Durum wheats were becoming important commercial crops
  • 1911–1917—Immigration of agricultural workers from Mexico 
  • 1912—Marquis wheat introduced 
  • 1912—Panama and Colombia sheep developed
  • 1915–1920—Enclosed gears developed for tractor
  • 1916—Railroad network peaks at 254,000 miles  
  • 1916—Stock-Raising Homestead Act
  • 1916—Rural Post Roads Act began regular Federal subsidies to road building 
  • 1917—Kansas red wheat distributed
  • 1917–1920—Federal Government operates railroads during the war emergency
  • 1918–1919 Small prairie-type combine with auxiliary engine introduced

The 1920s

The "Roaring Twenties" affected the agricultural industry, along with the "Good Roads" Movement."

  • 1920—Total population: 105,710,620; Farm population: 31,614,269 (estimated); Farmers made up 27% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,454,000; Average acres: 148 
  • The 1920s—Truckers began to capture trade in perishables and dairy products 
  • The 1920s—Movie houses were becoming common in rural areas 
  • 1921Radio broadcasts began 
  • 1921—Federal Government gave more aid for farm-to-market roads 
  • 1925—Hoch-Smith Resolution required the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to consider agricultural conditions in making railroad rates
  • 1920–1929—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,845,800 tons
  • 1920–1940—Gradual increase in farm production resulted from the expanded use of mechanized power
  • 1924—Immigration Act greatly reduced the number of new immigrants
  • 1926—Cotton-stripper developed for High Plains
  • 1926—Successful light tractor developed
  • 1926—Ceres wheat distributed 
  • 1926—First hybrid-seed corn company organized 
  • 1926—Targhee sheep developed

The 1930s

While the damage of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl lasted for a generation, the farm economy rebounded with advances in better irrigation methods and conservation tillage.

  • 1930—Total population: 122,775,046; Farm population: 30,455,350 (estimated); Farmers made up 21% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,295,000; Average acres: 157; Irrigated acres: 14,633,252 
  • 1930–1935—Use of hybrid-seed corn became common in the Corn Belt 
  • 1930–1939—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,599,913 tons
  • 1930—58% of all farms had cars, 34% had telephones, 13% had electricity 
  • The 1930s—All-purpose, rubber-tired tractor with complementary machinery came into wide use
  • The 1930s—Farm-to-market roads emphasized in Federal roadbuilding 
  • 1930—One farmer supplied 9.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1930—15–20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2-1/2 acres) of corn with 2-bottom gang plow, 7-foot tandem disk, 4-section harrow, and 2-row planters, cultivators, and pickers
  • 1930—15–20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with 3-bottom gang plow, tractor, 10-foot tandem disk, harrow, 12-foot combine, and trucks
  • 1932–1936—Drought and dust-bowl conditions developed 
  • 1934—Executive orders withdrew public lands from settlement, location, sale, or entry
  • 1934—Taylor Grazing Act
  • 1934—Thatcher wheat distributed 
  • 1934—Landrace hogs imported from Denmark 
  • 1935—Motor Carrier Act brought trucking under ICC regulation
  • 1936—Rural Electrification Act (REA) greatly improved the quality of rural life
  • 1938—Cooperative organized for artificial insemination of dairy cattle

The 1940s

  • 1940—Total population: 131,820,000; Farm population: 30,840,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 18% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,102,000; Average acres: 175; Irrigated acres: 17,942,968 
  • The 1940s—Many former southern sharecroppers migrated to war-related jobs in cities
  • 1940–1949—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 13,590,466 tons
  • 1940s and 1950s—Acreages of crops, such as oats, required for horse and mule feed dropped sharply as farms used more tractors 
  • 1940—One farmer supplied 10.7 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1940—58% of all farms had cars, 25% had telephones, 33% had electricity
  • 1941–1945— Frozen foods popularized
  • 1942—Spindle cotton-picker produced commercially
  • 1942—Office of Defense Transportation established to coordinate wartime transport needs
  • 1945–1955—Increased use of herbicides and pesticides
  • 1945–1970—Change from horses to tractors and the adoption of a group of technological practices characterized the second American agriculture agricultural revolution
  • 1945—10–14 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2 acres) of corn with a tractor, 3-bottom plow, 10-foot tandem disk, 4-section harrow, 4-row planters and cultivators, and 2-row picker 
  • 1945—42 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (2/5 acre) of lint cotton with 2 mules, 1-row plow, 1-row cultivator, hand how, and hand pick
  • 1947—United States began formal cooperation with Mexico to prevent spread of foot-and-mouth disease
03
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Agricultural Advances in the United States, 1950-1990

WHEAT HARVEST IN KANSAS
A combine harvester, tractor, and a pickup truck in a wheat field during harvest in Oakley, Kansas around 1956.

 

Michael Ochs Archives /Getty Images

The 1950s

The late 1950s–1960s began the chemical revolution in agricultural science, with the increasing use of anhydrous ammonia as a cheap source of nitrogen spurring higher yields.

  • 1950—Total population: 151,132,000; Farm population: 25,058,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 12.2% of labor force; Number of farms: 5,388,000; Average acres: 216; Irrigated acres: 25,634,869 
  • 1950–1959—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 22,340,666 tons
  • 1950—One farmer supplied 15.5 persons in the United States and abroad
  • The 1950s —Television widely accepted 
  • The 1950s—Many rural areas lost population as many farm family members sought outside work 
  • The 1950s—Trucks and barges competed successfully for agricultural products as railroad rates rose 
  • 1954—Number of tractors on farms exceeded the number of horses and mules for first times
  • 1954—70.9% of all farms had cars, 49% had telephones, 93% had electricity 
  • 1954—Social Security coverage extended to farm operators
  • 1955—6–12 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (4 acres) of wheat with a tractor, 10-foot plow, 12-foot role weeder, harrow, 14-foot drill, and self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1956—Legislation passed providing for Great Plains Conservation Program
  • 1956—Interstate Highway Act

The 1960s

  • 1960—Total population: 180,007,000; Farm population: 15,635,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 8.3% of labor force; Number of farms: 3,711,000; Average acres: 303; Irrigated acres: 33,829,000 
  • The 1960s—State legislation increased to keep land in farming 
  • The 1960sSoybean acreage expanded as farmers used soybeans as an alternative to other crops 
  • 1960–69—Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 32,373,713 tons
  • 1960—One farmer supplied 25.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1960—96% of corn acreage planted with hybrid seed
  • The 1960s—The financial condition of northeastern railroads deteriorated; rail abandonments accelerated 
  • The 1960s—Agricultural shipments by all-cargo planes increased, especially shipments of strawberries and cut flowers
  • 1961—Gaines wheat distributed 
  • 1962—REA authorized to finance educational TV in rural areas 
  • 1964—Wilderness Act 
  • 1965—Farmers made up 6.4% of the labor force
  • 1965—5 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with a tractor, 2-row stalk cutter, 14-foot disk, 4-row bedder, planter, and cultivator, and 2-row harvester
  • 1965—5 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 1/3 acres) of wheat with a tractor, 12-foot plow, 14-foot drill, 14-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1965—99% of sugar beets harvested mechanically
  • 1965—Federal loans and grants for water/sewer systems began
  • 1966—Fortuna wheat distributed
  • 1968—96% of cotton harvested mechanically
  • 1968—83% of all farms had phones, 98.4% had electricity

1970s

By the 1970s, no-tillage agriculture was popularized, increased in usage throughout the period. 

  • 1970—Total population: 204,335,000; Farm population: 9,712,000 (estimated); Farmers made up 4.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,780,000; Average acres: 390
  • 1970—One farmer supplied 75.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1970—Plant Variety Protection Act 
  • 1970—Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Norman Borlaug for developing high-yielding wheat varieties 
  • The 1970s—Rural areas experienced prosperity and in-migration
  • 1972–74—Russian grain sale caused massive tie-ups in the rail system
  • 1975—90% of all farms had phones, 98.6% had electricity
  • 1975—Lancota wheat introduced 
  • 1975—2-3 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with a tractor, 2-row stalk cutter, 20-foot disk, 4 -row bedder and planter, 4-row cultivator with herbicide applicator, and 2-row harvester
  • 1975—3-3/4 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with a tractor, 30-foot sweep disk, 27-foot drill, 22-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1975—3-1/3 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (1-1/8 acres) of corn with a tractor, 5-bottom plow, 20-foot tandem disk, planter, 20-foot herbicide applicator, 12-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1978—Hog cholera officially declared eradicated 
  • 1979—Purcell winter wheat introduced

The 1980s

By the end of the 1880s, farmers were using low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA) techniques to decrease chemical applications.

  • 1980—Total population: 227,020,000; Farm population: 6,051,00; Farmers made up 3.4% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,439,510; Average acres: 426; Irrigated acres: 50,350,000 (1978) 
  • The 1980s—More farmers used no-till or low-till methods to curb erosion
  • The 1980s—Biotechnology became a viable technique for improving crop and livestock products
  • 1980—Railroad and trucking industries were deregulated
  • The 1980s—For the first time since the 19th century, foreigners (Europeans and Japanese primarily) began to purchase significant acreages of farmland and ranchland
  • Mid-1980s—Hard times and indebtedness affected many farmers in the Midwest
  • 1883–1884—Avian influenza of poultry eradicated before it spread beyond a few Pennsylvania counties
  • 1986—The Southeast's worst summer drought on record took a severe toll on many farmers 
  • 1986—Antismoking campaigns and legislation began to affect the tobacco industry
  • 1987—Farmland values bottomed out after a 6-year decline, signaling both a turnaround in the farm economy and increased competition with other countries' exports 
  • 1987—1-1/2 to 2 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with a tractor, 4-row stalk cutter, 20-foot disk, 6-row bedder and planter, 6-row cultivator with herbicide applicator, and 4-row harvester
  • 1987—3 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with a tractor, 35-foot sweep disk, 30-foot drill, 25-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1987—2-3/4 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (1-1/8 acres) of corn with a tractor, 5-bottom plow, 25-foot tandem disk, planter, 25-foot herbicide applicator, 15-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks 
  • 1988—Scientists warned that the possibility of global warming may affect the future viability of American farming 
  • 1988—One of the worst droughts in the Nation's history hit midwestern farmers
  • 1989—After several slow years, the sale of farm equipment rebounded
  • 1989—More farmers began to use low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA) techniques to decrease chemical applications
  • 1990—Total population: 246,081,000; Farm population: 4,591,000; Farmers made up 2.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,143,150; Average acres: 461; Irrigated acres: 46,386,000 (1987)