16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Saturday, October 15, 1911: Was so busy all day. Had to help Daddy pick corn and husked pop corn between loads. Both of these jobs aren’t finished yet either.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Whew, it sounds like a lot of work. There weren’t combines (or even mechanical corn pickers) a hundred years ago. Horses would have been used and much of the labor would have been by hand.
This entry made me curious about how crop production and yields have changed over the last 100 years.
So few soybeans were produced in 1911 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not even track it. In 1931, 17 million bushels of soybeans were produced in the U.S. –and by 2011 approximately 3,329 million bushels were produced.
Barley and oats production decreased substantially between 1911 and 2011—probably due at least in part to the reduced number of horses that needed to be fed in the US. Wheat production increased a little over the years.
Corn yields increased the most. For example, in 1911, about 24 bushels per acre were produced. This increased to approximately 148 bushels per acre in 2011. Yields increased substantially between the 1930’s and 1950’s due to the widespread shift from open pollinated corn to hybrid corn. The increased use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the later part of the last century also increased yields. In recent years the use of genetically modified seed has led to major yield increases.
Another factor that has increased the average yield per acre over the past 100 years, is that some of the less productive land in the US has been taken out of production.
Data Source: US Department of Agriculture. For some crops 2011 data are not yet available. If not available, 2010 data were used to construct the figures.