The meatpacking plant of Chicago’s Union Stockyards was a sprawling facility that tackled the slaughter, handling, packaging, and also circulation of livestock and swine. In operation by 1865, it was just one of the earliest U.S. businesses to exemplify the commercial version, establishing precedents other sectors would certainly follow. Henry Ford even attributed the pet “disassembly” lines at Union Stockyards via inspiring the idea for his auto manufacturing plants.3 Photograph credit: John Vachon, 1941. Public domain.

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In the early 1900s, more than fifty percent of Americans were either farmers or lived in rural neighborhoods.1 Most U.S. ranches were diversified, interpretation they produced a variety of plants and also animal species together on the very same farm, in complementary means.2 Farmers were experienced in a large selection of trades and had autonomy over how to control their crops and animals. Animals were generally increased through access to the outdoors. Many of the work on the farm was done by humale or animal labor.

Although problems choose these still exist, the industrialization of agriculture radically transformed just how the substantial majority of food is developed in the U.S. and many type of other components of the civilization. Over the brief expectations of the 20th century, farming underwent greater readjust than it had actually given that it was first embraced some 13,000 years earlier. Modern U.S. agriculture has actually been described as “the many reliable in the people, at leastern in terms of the dollar and also cent costs of production.”1 The general public wellness and also ecological prices of industrialization, but, are not reflected in the prices of food. 



Wwarmth harvest in Idaho. Specialization intends to boost performance by narrowing the variety of work and duties connected in manufacturing. This method was used to almost all facets of food production. Diversified farms provided method to genetically unicreate monocultures—areas planted via simply one crop species at a time, over a very large area. Picture credit: USDA. Public domajor.


Workers in a cigar factory. Tampa, Florida; circa 1920. In the at an early stage 1900s, more than half of Americans were farmers or stayed in rural neighborhoods. The industrialization of farming is said to have actually completed two goals: to “free” Americans from farming so they could join the labor pressure in workplaces and factories, and also to make food and also farming cheaper so Americans might afford to buy the assets available by brand-new sectors.4 Picture public domajor.

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Specialization aims to increase performance by narrowing the selection of jobs and duties involved in production. A diversified farmer, for instance, might must control and also treatment for many different vegetable crops, a composting procedure, a flock of egg-laying hens, a sow, and her litter of pigallows. Specialized farmers, by contrast, deserve to focus all their understanding, abilities, and devices on one or two enterprises, such as prospering corn and soy, or fattening beef cattle. Over the course of industrialization, expertise was applied to almost all facets of food production.

Diversified ranches offered means to genetically uniform monocultures—fields planted with just one chop species at a time, such as corn, wwarm, or soy, over a really huge location. Meat, milk, and egg manufacturing became mostly separated from crop production and also affiliated facilities that hoprovided a single breed of animal, throughout a details duration of its lifeexpectations, for a single function (e.g., reproduction, feeding, or slaughter). Farmers, when experienced in a breadth of trades, dropped into more specialized duties.

Specialization was additionally applied to pet genetics, as selective reproduction created animals designed for a single outcome—large breast meat, for example, or boosted milk production. Compared to chickens of the 1930s, today’s chickens bred for meat (“broilers”) thrive to virtually twice the weight, in much less than fifty percent the moment, using less than fifty percent as a lot feed.5 Genetic selection for these exaggerated traits has regularly come at the expense of the animals’ health, consisting of raised dangers for heart faitempt in broilers and udder infections in dairy cows bred for higher milk production.6



The combine harvester perdevelops 2 procedures at once: cutting grain (reaping) and removing it from the inedible part (threshing). Mechanization in farming substantially diminished the need for human and animal labor. From 1950 to 2000, manufacturing on UNITED STATE farms more than doubled with less than a 3rd of the labor prices.9 Picture credit: Dan Davidson, 2010. Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.


Threshing rice. Harnatar, India; circa 1906. Mechanization brought tremendous gains in efficiency. By hand also, a perboy can thresh approximately 15 to 40 kg of grain per hour, normally by beating the harvested crop against a difficult surface to shake the grain loose from the inedible chaff that surrounds it. In the same amount of time, a mechanized thresher deserve to process 450 to 600 kg of rice, sorghum, or beans, or 1,500 to 2,000 kg of corn.8 Photo: public domain.

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Like work on an assembly line, specialized labor often requires repetitive jobs that deserve to be performed by makers. This supposed program work favor sowing seeds, harvesting plants, milking cows, and feeding and also slaughtering pets can be mechanized, reducing (and in some instances eliminating) the require for human and also pet labor. Between 1900 and also 2000, the share of the UNITED STATE workforce involved in farming declined from 41 percent to 2 percent.7

In some instances, mechanization brought incredible gains in efficiency. Grain and bean plants, such as corn, wwarmth, rice, and also soy, should be reduced from the areas (reaped) and rerelocated from the inedible components of the plant (threshed). Doing this by hand also involves an substantial amount of time and effort. By hand, a perchild have the right to thresh about 15 to 40 kg of grain per hour, typically by beating the harvested crop versus a difficult surface to shake the grain loose from the inedible chaff that surrounds it. In the exact same amount of time, a mechanized thresher have the right to procedure 450 to 600 kg of rice, sorghum, or beans, or 1,500 to 2,000 kg of corn.8

Chemical and also pharmaceutical inputs


Fertilizer applications on U.S. plants, 1964–92. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, introduced in the early 1900s, have actually been credited with feeding the lion’s share of a worldwide population that flourished from 1.6 to 6 billion over the 20th century. In just 12 years, between 1964 and also 1976, synthetic and also mineral fertilizer applications on UNITED STATE crops nearly doubled.10


Pesticide applications on major U.S. crops, 1964–1992. Between 1964 and 1976, total pesticide applications on significant U.S. crops enhanced by 143 percent. Many of this was accounted for by herbicide usage. Over the years displayed in this graph, U.S. corn crops were responsible for the largest share of pesticide and fertilizer usage.10

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The early on 1900s experienced the development of man-made fertilizers and also chemical pesticides, inventions that have end up being a hallmark of industrial chop production. In simply 12 years, in between 1964 and 1976, artificial and also mineral fertilizer applications on UNITED STATE plants practically doubled, while pesticide usage on significant UNITED STATE plants boosted by 143 percent.10 The transition to specialized monocultures boosted farmers’ reliance on these chemicals, in component bereason crop diversity can aid suppush weeds and other pests.11,12

Chemical and pharmaceutical usage likewise ended up being commonlocation in freshly developed models of meat, milk, and also egg manufacturing. Antibiotics, for instance, were presented to swine, poultry, and also cattle feed after a series of experiments in the 1940s and 1950s uncovered that feeding the drugs to animals brought about them to get weight faster and also on much less feed.13 By 2009, 80 percent of the antibiotic drugs offered in the U.S. were used not for humale medication however for livestock manufacturing.14

Just like other fads in industrialization, the use of chemical and also pharmaceutical inputs in agriculture readily available gains in performance, but not without wellness and also ecological aftermath.



Consolidation in U.S. farms, 1950–1997. Consolidation in agriculture is the change towards fewer and larger ranches. The complete number of UNITED STATE farms decreased from 5.39 million to 1.91 million between 1950 and 1997. Over the very same duration, the average dimension of UNITED STATE ranches even more than doubled (from 215 to 487 acres).17


Consolidation in UNITED STATE hog farms, 1955–2015. The number of U.S. hog ranches declined from 1.85 million to 63,000 between 1959 and also 2012. Over the very same duration, the average number of hogs per farm raised from 37 to 1,044. Sixty percent of the hogs in the UNITED STATE are produced in framework that confine more than 5,000 pets at a offered time.17 Image credit: Brent Kim, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

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Consolidation in agriculture is the transition towards fewer and larger ranches, normally as a result of big ranches acquiring bigger and also smaller farms going out of organization. In the late 1950s, U.S. Secretary of Agrisociety Ezra Taft Benchild exemplified federal government press to consolidate when he called on farmers to “obtain huge or get out.”15

Between 1950 and also 1997, the average U.S. farm more than doubled in dimension, and much less than fifty percent the farms continued to be.16 In meat, dairy, and egg production, the variety of pets on each farm increased substantially, while the variety of little farms decreased. Many kind of other industries in the food mechanism, including pet slaughtering and processing, also underwent major consolidation.

What drove the push to consolidate? New technology, including chemicals and larger tractors, enabled farmers to work larger locations of land also via much less labor.2 Government plans urged farmers to range up their operations. Farmers were additionally motivated by economic climates of scale—the financial benefit of creating bigger numbers of assets. A chicken farmer, for instance, could revolve a greater profit on each bird by housing a bigger variety of birds (up to a point).

Largely as an outcome of consolidation, many food production in the UNITED STATE now takes place on massive-range operations. Half of all U.S. cropland also is on farms via at leastern 1,000 acres (over 1.5 square miles).2 The substantial majority of UNITED STATE poulattempt and pork commodities comes from infrastructure that each develop over 200,000 chickens or 5,000 pigs in a single year, while a lot of egg-laying hens are confined in infrastructure that house over 100,000 birds at a time.17

Market concentration


Percentage of sales earned by the four biggest companies in their particular industries.20,25 Earnings from food and also agricultural markets have actually end up being progressively concentrated among a small number of effective suppliers. In the UNITED STATE beef slaughtering and handling sector, the four biggest suppliers earn 82 percent of the sales. Image credit: Michael Milli and also Brent Kim. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, 2013.

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Decisions about who produces our food, what food is created, just how it is developed, and also that gets to eat that food have actually been steadily relocating from … families and governments to … corporation boardrooms.

– Mary Hendrickchild and Harvey S. James Jr.18

Market share is the proportion of an industry’s sales earned by one firm. In the U.S. market for salty snacks, for instance, 64 percent of sales are earned by PepsiCo.19

When a little variety of suppliers have actually a big sector share of an sector, the industry for that industry is sassist to be focused. Markets come to be more concentrated once suppliers take over, or merge via, their rivals.

Over the course of industrialization, markets for food and also agricultural assets have actually end up being significantly concentrated. In the U.S. beef slaughtering and handling sector, for instance, the four biggest service providers earn 82 percent of the sales.20 In the supermarket market, 4 providers earn at leastern 42 percent of the sales.21

Vertical integration is a form of market concentration that occurs as soon as service providers gain regulate of multiple markets affiliated in the exact same products. Smitharea Foods, for example, is associated in the reproduction, manufacturing, slaughter, handling, and marketing of hogs and pork assets.22 A tiny number of effective corporations have comparable manage over poulattempt sectors.

What does market concentration intend for farmers and also consumers? In some situations, market concentration have the right to lower prices for consumers and also rise sales.23 On the various other hand also, via fewer competitors in a focused sector, leading carriers might get greater power to influence prices in their favor.23 They may likewise dictate just how foodstuffs are developed, leaving farmers with little choice over how to grow plants or raise pets.18 Many kind of highly concentrated corporations also have a solid existence in government agencies, wright here they have the right to affect plans in their favor.24


The complying with list of argued resources is intended as a beginning suggest for further expedition, and is not in any kind of way thorough. Some products may not reflect the views of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

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For teachers


Academic journal articles



1. Ikerd JE. Sustaining the profitability of agriculture. In: Economist’s Role in the Agrisocial Sustainability Paradigm. San Antonio, TX: University of Missouri; 1996. 2. MacDonald J, Korb P, Hoppe R. Farm Size and the Organization of UNITED STATE Crop Farming. 2013. 3. Rifkin J. Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fevery one of the Cattle Culture. New York, New York: Plume; 1993. 4. Ikerd JE. Sustaining the Profitcapability of Agriculture. In: Economist’s Role in the Agricultural Sustainability Paradigm. San Antonio, TX: University of Missouri; 1996. 5. Striffler S. Chicken: The Dangerous Transdevelopment of America`s Favorite Food. New Haven: Yale College Press; 2005. 6. Rauw WM, Kanis E, Noordhuizen-Stassen E., Grommers F. Unpreferable side results of selection for high production performance in farm animals: a evaluation. Livest Prod Sci. 1998;56(1):15-33. 7. Dimitri C, Effland also A, Conklin N. The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agrisociety and Farm Policy. USDA ERS. 2006. 8. M. de Lucia, Assennato D. Agricultural Engineering in Development: Post-Harvest Operations and also Management of Foodgrains. Food and also Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 1994. 9. USDA Economic Research Service. Agricultural Productivity in the United States. 2014. 10. Lin B-H, Padgitt M, Bull L, Delvo H, Shank D, Taylor H. Pesticide and also Fertilizer Use and Trends in U.S. Agriculture. 1995. 11. Liebmale M, Davis AS. Integration of soil, crop and weed monitoring in low-external-input farming systems. Weed Res. 2000;40:27-47. 12. Kirschenmann FL. Potential for a brand-new generation of biodiversity in agroecodevices of the future. Agron J. 2007;99(2):373-376. 13. Gustafkid RH, Bowen RE. Antibiotic use in pet agriculture. J Appl Microbiol. 1997;83(5):531-41. 14. UNITED STATE Food and Drug Administration. Letter to The Honorable Louise M. Slaughter: Sales of Antibacterial Drugs in Kilograms. Washington D.C.; 2010. 15. Zimdahl RR. Agriculture’s Ethical Horizon. 2nd ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2012. 16. Hoppe RA, Banker DE. Structure and Finances of UNITED STATE Farms: 2005 Family Farm Report. Vol Economic I. USDA Economic Research Service; 2006. 17. USDA. 2012 UNITED STATE Census of Agriculture. 2014. 18. Hendrickson MK, James HS. The Ethics of Constrained Choice: How the Industrialization of Agriculture Impacts Farming and also Farmer Behavior. J Agric Environ Ethics. 2005;18(3):269-291. 19. Cooper T. This Company Seeks to Dominate Snacks. The Motley Fool. 2013. 20. James HS, Hendrickboy MK, Howard PH. Networks, Power, and Dependency in the Agrifood Industry. In: James HS, ed. The Ethics and Economics of Agrifood Competition. Dordrecht: Springer Science-Firm Media Press; 2013:99-126. 21. Hendrickson M, Heffernan W. Concentration of Agricultural Markets. 2007. 22. Martinez SW. Vertical Coordination in the Pork and also Broiler Industries: Implications for Pork and also Chicken Products. 1999. 23. Shields DA. Consolidation and also Concentration in the UNITED STATE Dairy Industry. 2010. 24. Ikerd JE. Crisis & Opportunity: Sustaincapability in Amerihave the right to Agriculture. Lincoln, NE: College of Nebraska Press; 2008. 25. Heffernan WD, Douglas HC. Concentration of Agricultural Markets. 1990.