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Farming is as big a part of the American identity as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie, but it has nevertheless been a shrinking part of the American way of life for decades. It takes only a drive past malls and multiplexes rapidly rising on land formerly dedicated to agriculture to appreciate that fact firsthand.
In its “40 Maps That Explain Food in America,” Vox.com uses a collection of charts, graphs and maps to illustrate how food in the United States is produced and consumed. In addition to exploring hot topics like the rise in obesity, the spread of McDonald’s, and the correlation between Waffle Houses and hurricanes, the feature reveals a lot about the trajectory of farming in the United States
Here are 10 interesting facts about U.S. farming — its history and current status — to be gleaned from Vox.com’s “40 Maps …”:
1. Between 1840 and 2000, the percentage of the American labor force engaged in agriculture-related work plummeted from a robust 70 percent to a measly 2 percent.
2. From 2007 to 2012, America had a net loss of 90,000 farms.
3. But while Kentucky and Tennessee have lost farms over the course of those five years, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have actually shown a net gain in the number of farms.
4. Even though America has fewer farms and people working in farming, overall, we are producing more food than ever — thanks to technological improvements in our seed supply, irrigation systems, pesticides and farming equipment.
5. Corn, which blankets 63 percent of the land in some United States counties, covers more American land than any other crop. The soybean crop — much of it used for livestock feed — comes in second.
6. About one-third of U.S. crop revenue comes from corn — $63.9 billion per year. Soybeans, meanwhile, bring in about $37.6 billion annually. Together those two crops alone constitute nearly half of America’s total $208 billion annual crop revenues.
7. Although cows are raised all over the United States, except for a few scattered cattle-free pockets where the terrain is not hospitable, as of 2007, chickens outnumbered them — 2,064,363,328 to 96,617,683.
8. A 2012 USDA survey found that about 60 percent of farm products, by value, are produced by a scant 4 percent of U.S. farms.
9. The vast majority of farms — about 75 percent — pull in less than $50,000 annually.
10. The average U.S. farmer is getting on in years. As of 2012, the average age for principal farm operators in the United States was 58 and about a third of U.S. farmers were over age 65.
Anyone else feel a sudden urge to hug a farmer?