Understanding Farming, at Its Most Basic Level

By Sandy K. Johnson

How big is a bushel? Why do farmers need to increase their yield? What is an acre?

These are basic facts that reporters should understand in order to cover agriculture and its end game — food that we all eat.

Fact one: How big is an acre? About the size of a soccer field. How does that relate to farming? The average farm today is about 425 acres.

Another fact: Nine cents of your food dollar goes to the farmer. The rest goes to food processing, packaging, transportation, wholesalers and retailers, grocers and restaurants.

More facts: 2.6 million jobs are created down on the farm. Add in food service, manufacturing and retail, and then the overall food industry grows to 21 million jobs – or 11 percent of all employment in the U.S.

There are 2 million farms in the United States, far fewer than decades ago – yet land devoted to agriculture has been mostly flat since the 1950s.

“We’re probably not going to develop more farmland in the U.S. We just don’t have the dirt to make that shift,” said Bob Young, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. That’s why technology and science are so important, Young told National Press Foundation fellows; today’s farmers have to be substantially more productive to feed 325 million Americans and a big chunk of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

American farms produce roughly equal amounts of animals and crops, by cash value.

  • Biggest cash cows (pardon the pun) for farmers: beef, valued at $78 billion; poultry and eggs $48 billion; dairy $35 billion; pork $21 billion.
  • Crops, by cash value: corn $47 billion; soybeans $33 billion; fruit and nuts $27 billion; vegetables $20 billion.

So how big is a bushel, the standard unit of measure for crops? It depends. Each commodity is different. Here’s a measure of wheat by bushel, for instance. In general, a bushel equals 8 gallons of a specific commodity.

This program is funded by DuPont Pioneer, the National Pork Board, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Organic Valley. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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