How has farming changed since 1978 and “So God Made a Farmer”?

Paul Harvey’s “So God Made A Farmer” was a big hit during the 2013 Super Bowl with a well-done Dodge RAM ad. Here’s a look at how farming has changed since 1978. This was originally published on CNN Eatocracy on February 05, 2013. Click here to see all of my CNN articles.

Paul Harvey So God Made a Farmer compared with today's farms

By the numbers, how has farming changed since ‘So God Made a Farmer’?

This week has been an exciting one for those discussing food and farming. Sunday’s airing of RAM Truck’s Super Bowl ad featuring the American Farmer has had online communities buzzing about the images and characteristics that defined our farmers in 1978.

Those characteristics and values still hold true today, despite what we commonly hear in mainstream media and reports from those who have a ‘beef’ with modern farming.

Paul Harvey first recited “So God Made a Farmer” at the 1978 Future Farmers of America annual convention. A few things have changed in the three and a half decades since. My dad was in Junior High (and still had a full head of hair). Since then, he has raised a few thousand cattle, has broken in a few new pickups, and harvested several crops of hay.

So how do things compare between 1978 and today?

Ag Census Statistics compared to 1978

Using the numbers from our most recent U.S. Agriculture Survey (2007, a new one is being conducted for 2012), here are some interesting comparisons:

  • In 1978, there were 2,257,775 farms, averaging 449 acres each. In 2007, those numbers reduced to 2,204,792 farms averaging 418 acres each. Farmers today are actually smaller by 31 acres.
  • Today the market value of farmland and buildings is $1,892 per acre. That is up from $619 per acre in 1978 – an increase of $1,273 per acre.
  • Today we have 922,095,840 acres of farmland in the United States. In 1978, that number was 1,014,777,234 – a decrease of 92,681,394 acres.
  • In 1978, 56% of farmers claimed farming as their primary occupation and 44% of farmers claimed zero days away from the farm work.
  • Today, 45% of farmers claim farming as their primary occupation and 35.3% of farmers claim zero days away from the farm work.
  • Our average farmers have aged almost 7 years since 1978. Today the average farmer is 57.1 years old.

The numbers have changed, and so has much of the technology farmers use to produce much more food on much fewer acres, but the person remains the same. The characteristics, values, hard work, determination, and grit it takes to work day in and out, producing food for a global food supply, still holds true 35 years after the late Paul Harvey first made his description.

Recently, farmers and ranchers may not have been in the most positive spotlight, but I hope we all take this opportunity to ruminate on the things food producers are doing right and carry on the conversation on how we can continue to improve.

More thoughts from farmers, ranchers, and the Agriculture community

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