This industry classification is comprised of establishments deriving at least half the value of their total agricultural sales from crops, but less than 50 percent of the sales are from the products of any single, three-digit industry group. Crop farms deriving 50 percent or more of their total agricultural sales from products classified within a single three-digit grouping are classified according to that grouping.
Specified three-digit classifications are: 011 cash grains (wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans); 013 field crops (cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, sugar beets, and potatoes); 016 vegetables and melons; 017 fruits and tree nuts (berries, grapes, citrus and tree fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches, and pears); and 018 horticultural specialties (ornamental and nursery products and food crops grown under cover, such as mushrooms and bean sprouts).
All Other Miscellaneous Crop Farming
Despite steady decline over the years, farming has long been one of the staple industries in the U.S. economy, and the United States remains the world leader in crop harvesting. The decline is due in part to the trend of large agribusiness firms increasingly taking the place of smaller family farms, resulting in reduced employment levels, as farms tried to boost efficiency to remain competitive.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2004 there were 2.1 million farms in operation in the United States, with a combined total of 937 billion acres. The average farm size was recorded at 443 acres. All crop areas except tobacco showed growth from the previous year, and the combined farm sector was valued at more than $101 billion. California, Texas, Nebraska, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Iowa were the biggest producers in terms of farm revenue.
As of the mid-2000s, farmers were continuing to face a host of challenges relating to environmental and health concerns. As consumers and regulators placed heightened emphasis on water and land conservation and the minimization of pollutants, many farmers have rapidly attempted to reorganize their production to become more environmentally sound. Moreover, concern was on the rise over the presence of chemicals in foods, forcing farmers to rethink their pest- and quality-control practices. Finally, the practice of genetically modifying seeds and foods has generated national and international controversy relating to environmental, economic, health, and ethical concerns.
In 1997, 86 percent of farms classified in the industry were owned by sole proprietors. Nine percent were organized as partnerships, 2 percent were family corporations, and about 2 percent were held by non-family corporations. The remainder was operated by other entities, such as cooperatives, institutions, and estates. These statistics were comparable to the ownership structure for all U.S. farms.
Farm operators were classified by their ownership interest in the land. Full owners owned the land they operated; part owners operated part of their own land and rented the remaining land; tenants rented the land they worked. Sixty percent of all general crop farms were predominantly operated by full owners, while partners operated 30 percent and tenants 10 percent.
European colonists learned about cultivating plants indigenous to the United States, developed an agricultural industry, and modified it to suit their own needs. European settlers brought horses and oxen to the continent and put them to work as draft animals. They imported seeds and introduced wheat, rice, barley, oats, rye, and buckwheat. In areas with rich soil, abundant production soon surpassed local demand, and, during the seventeenth century, exports were used to finance imports of manufactured goods. Crop production varied by area; in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, farmers were primarily grain producers. In addition to grains, farmers in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina grew tobacco and vegetables. Rice and indigo were the main crops in South Carolina and Georgia. Commercial production of indigo, which had prospered under British rule because of preferential trade treatment, ceased following the Revolutionary War. Cotton was not fully developed as a commercial crop until later.
Colonies were generally forbidden to trade with countries other than their "mother" country. English colonies traded only with England; Dutch colonies traded only with Holland; Spanish colonies traded only with Spain; and French colonies traded only with France. This type of trade restriction was one of the contributing factors leading to the Revolutionary War.
Events surrounding the war's conclusion set the stage for the development of farming practices within the United States. Under the terms of the peace treaty signed in 1783, England surrendered its claim to the colonies and its claim to an additional 237 million acres located west of the Ohio River. The original 13 states agreed that the western territory would be held in public domain by the federal government for the purpose of distributing it equitably to settlers.
The process of selling units of western land to farmers began in 1785, two years before the Constitution was adopted. Under the terms of the Land Survey Ordinance, lands were portioned off into townships containing 36 sections of 640 acres (one square mile per section). These were further subdivided into 16 units. Farmers could purchase up to four units, equaling one-quarter section (a total of 160 acres), at one dollar per acre. Within 10 years of the end of the Revolutionary War, an estimated 100,000 settlers had begun farming in the Ohio River valley and the Cumberland River valley.
Farmers who moved west often left depleted soils in the east. Overproduction of single crops, such as cotton or tobacco, drained the land of the nutrients needed to maintain soil fertility. Thomas Jefferson was a leader against the practice of single-crop agriculture. He believed that farms should be diversified and self-sufficient. His experiments with crop rotation and botanical research made significant contributions to the nation's agricultural industry. Jefferson also developed an improved "moldboard" to improve plowing efficiency. (A moldboard was the part of a plow that turned the soil.) To help farmers share agricultural knowledge, agricultural societies were formed.
A major innovation occurred at the end of the eighteenth century, when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a mechanical device able to separate cotton fibers from cotton seeds. The combination of the cotton gin and slave labor made cotton a profitable crop for plantation-style agriculture. Another crop grown on plantations was tobacco. As the South increased its reliance on single-crop, nonfood agriculture, it became dependent on imports from other regions for food.
The nineteenth century opened with new opportunities for farming in America. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, opening up possibilities for new settlers from the Mississippi Delta to the Dakotas. The century also brought a mechanical revolution to farming. John Lane introduced the all-steel plow. Cyrus McCormick invented the horse-drawn reaper, a device able to harvest more than 10 acres per day—a four-fold increase over what a skilled worker could harvest. McCormick's reaper was first built in 1831 and patented in 1834. Other nineteenth-century farm machinery developments included two-row corn planters, combines, threshing machines, and hay balers.
As the nation's infrastructure developed, the ability to transport western farm products to eastern markets improved. The number of settlers moving west increased, and demand for western land intensified. The Preemption Act of 1841 allowed squatters the right to purchase up to 160 acres at $1.25 per acre. The Swampland Act of 1849 was designed to create more cultivatable land by draining swamps.
Cotton and tobacco continued to make major contributions to the country's economy. In 1850 almost half of all U.S. exports were cotton shipments headed for English textile mills. In 1859 U.S. tobacco growers harvested 430 million pounds, a 106 percent increase over a 10-year period. In 1860 approximately 60 percent of the nation's working population was involved in the farming industry. Their efforts brought a steady increase of U.S. agricultural products to the world marketplace.
The Civil War disrupted farming, particularly in the South, where plantations were devastated, and the region's economy ground to a halt. According to J. J. McCoy in To Feed a Nation, the...