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7+ Interesting facts about agriculture

Updated: Mar 29

Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock, typically for the purpose of human consumption. Agriculture was the key advancement that helped to lead to the rise of modern human civilizations and allowed people to move from migratory hunter/gather societies to more sedentary existences.

Agriculture and managed farm cultivation have been in practice for thousands of years. Even if we don't work in agriculture it impacts our daily lives. Here are some fun and interesting facts about agriculture!

Keep reading to learn some amazing and interesting facts about farmers and farming.

Half the Habitable Land on Earth is Used for Farming

Today almost half of the world’s habitable land is used for farming, with more than 3/4 of this is used for livestock production. If we look at all the land used for grazing or to grow crops for animal fodder - land use for livestock accounts for about 77% of total global farming land use. However, while the production of livestock occupies the majority of world farmland it only generates about 20% of the calories and about 40% of the protein for the global food supply.

About 1/2 of the World's Population Works in Agriculture

Food is essential to our livelihoods. On average over the last few decades, about 40% of the world's population was employed in some agricultural-related industry. However, according to data from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the percentage of people working in food production has declined steadily over the past 2 decades. This is primarily driven by the development of infrastructure, technology, and improvements in farm yields, which lead to the need for fewer people to labor as farm workers.

According to the USDA, in 2020 there were about 19 million full and part-time jobs in the food and agriculture sector, which represents about 10% of the US labor market.

The World Raises - and Eats - a Lot of Cows

According to a cattle report published by the U.S Department of Agricultural Statistics Service, in January 2024 there were 87.2 million head of cattle and calves on U.S Farms. This number is reduced from the year before by 2%. The U.S. is still the world's largest beef producer but India has the most dairy cows.

It takes about 1.5 to 2 acres to feed a cow/calf pair for 12 months with cows consuming about 2% percent of their body weight or 24 pounds per day. Today, about 80% of the world's habitable land is used for the grazing of livestock (including cattle) and the production of animal feed. In terms of production, a 1,200-pound steer results in about 490 pounds of beef. A dairy cow can produce between 6-7 gallons of milk per day (or about 2,500 gallons per year). Learn about different breeds of cows.

It's also interesting to note that while there are plenty of meat eaters in the U.S. and around the world veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise in the U.S and their numbers are only increasing. In 2020 one study found that 7.3 million individuals follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Due to health concerns, animal rights issues, and environmentalism people choose a plant-based diet for all meals or a meatless night a few times a week.

4.5 Million Organic Farmers Worldwide

Organic certification is currently the “gold standard” in food production. Organic growers, who grow food using natural processes and materials, are growing throughout the world. The number of farmers who reported using organic growing methods has increased from 2.9 million to 4.5 million in the last few years. This is due to the rise in demand for organically produced food.

The organic foods market in the U.S. was worth $258.9 billion in 2024. Consumers are looking for healthy foods and while there are many other “food labels” in the retail marketplace, “organic” is by far the most familiar one. Learn more about the steps to organic certification.

Some Plants Require Cold Weather to Flower

This process is called cold stratification. This is a process where seeds are exposed to cold temperatures (about 40°F or 5°C). This process mimics the same conditions that happen in the spring in the northern hemisphere. During this process, the outer layer of the seed breaks down, letting in moisture, and allowing the dormant plant to sprout.

Farmers also use warm stratification to mimic warm growing conditions and scarification of seeds to "scratch" the hard outer coating of seeds. All of these methods are ways that farmers replicate the natural growth cycle of plants to encourage them to sprout.

Crayons Are Grown - From Soybeans

The soybean oil from one bushel of soybeans will make 2,112 crayons. One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons! Wow, that's a lot of crayons!

43% of Farmers Are Women

Over a third of the 3.3 million farm operators worldwide are women, and 1.2 million women farmers in the U.S. Women farm operators have increased 20% since 2002, and more than 75% of women farm operators are owners of their land. Check out these amazing women farmer innovators.

Fungus Helps Trees Grow

Fungi are amazing! They are an integrated partner in a healthy ecosystem with trees. Trees and fungi are interconnected in an underground mycorrhizal network. These white threads of mycelium that you find in a handful of healthy soil are part of fungi. These threads are a fungal network and act as a sort of web to distribute and share food and water and are essential to the health of trees. Amazingly plants have evolved to have symbiotic relationships with fungi. The fungi help plants and in return, the plant roots give the fungi carbon, energy through carbohydrates, and other nutrients.

Over 30% of All Food Grown is Never Eaten

Nearly a third of all food produced in the world is never eaten. Every year that's 30 million tons of food just in the U.S. and 1.3 billion metric tons worldwide. As it also happens, 44 million people in the U.S. are food insecure. Those two things seem to be at odds with one another.

Why are we wasting food? Some food is lost during the harvesting or processing part of farming, some is lost due to the food not being the right size, shape, or color. Some of the food is never harvested from the fields due to poor resale value or overproduction.

Of the food that reaches American homes, about 25% of it is thrown away. The reasons for food loss at home is due to things like poor storage and spoilage, the "leftovers" dilemma, poor planning, and not knowing how to prepare a certain food.

Check out these tips to reduce food waste and compost.

Infographic showing 7 facts about agriculture

Additional References:

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