The Accelerators of Change
By Braden Copeland,
A CENTURY AGO, one out of every three US workers worked in agriculture.
Today, the number is less than one out of 50.
But, in the face of this staggering decline, productivity has increased spectacularly.
When early 20th century dairies produced milk by hand, it took two workers 7.5 minutes to milk a single cow.
In the modern dairy, a single worker hits a button on a machine. The machine milks 10 cows in 7.5 minutes... less than a minute per cow, no men required.
In the fields, the story is the same...
Back in 1890, producing 100 bushels of wheat required five acres of land. Planting and harvesting required 40-50 hours of labor. The workers used manually powered machines consisting of gang plows, harrows, binders, threshers, and wagons.
A century later, thanks mostly to mechanization, producing that same 100 bushels of wheat required just three acres of land. Labor was reduced to three hours. Fossil fuel powered machines like tractors, combines, and trucks replaced the old, manually powered equipment.
Then, as the 20th century gave way to the 21st, manufacturers started adding more sophisticated crop-specific technology to their machines.
All of these advances and some of them, like the use of GMOs, hotly debated were made with an eye towards offering farmers new ways to increase crop yields (how much of a crop a given amount of land can produce). It is the most critical factor for farmers as they work not only to sustain their farms, but also to make them more profitable.
Now, something called "prescriptive farming" is becoming commonplace. Sensors in fields are providing machines with real-time data so they can constantly adjust planting and fertilization for the best yields.
Soon flying drones will provide farmers with clues about everything from moisture levels and soil content to hideouts for pests.
With such technology, farmers are harvesting and growing crops faster and more efficiently than ever.
Two years ago, the state of Oregon's wheat farmers grew 73 million bushels of wheat on 965,000 acres... 100 bushels on every 1.3 acres.
The progress is remarkable...
In the 100 years between 1890 and 1990, the amount of land required to yield 100 bushels of wheat decreased by 40%, from five to three acres. The amount of labor required for the harvest decreased by more than 90%.
But the gains in efficiency didn't stop...
In just the 25 years since 1990, the land required to grow 100 bushels of wheat has dropped 57%, from three to 1.3 acres. And the amount of true hard labor required is approaching zero.
The farm of today is super-efficient. It's running on sophisticated systems and machines, and growing "smart" crops.
More advances and changes like these are sure to come... and not just on the farm. And, with many, debate is certain to follow. With change, it almost always does.
The point here is not about debating the merits of change, though.
It's not simply about technology replacing labor. It's not about the high-tech advances we are seeing in agriculture; or the important idea that change occurs and, with it, comes opportunity.
As investors who intend to profit in today's world, there is something deeper we must understand.
It has to do with the pace of change... and how that pace of change will continue to accelerate in everything.
We must understand what's behind how the world is evolving faster and faster... these technological revolutions, like the never-ending one imposing itself on the unsuspecting farmer.
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