How farming has changed in every state the last 100 years
Over the past century, American farming has changed dramatically. Crops with long histories like tobacco are still prevalent throughout the South, while many farmers across the country are now exploring the possibility of a thriving hemp market. Every state has a rich farming history, from the tomatoes made in New Jersey, to the sheep used for wool production in Wyoming. Currently, some farms are looking to new technology to maintain their blue-collar livelihood, while others have decided to shut down shop, unable to keep up with fluctuating markets, export worries, and other daily concerns of America’s farmers. Those aspects and more are detailed in Stacker’s dive into how American farming over the past 100 years.
Stacker compiled a list comparing agriculture in each state over the last 100 years using data from the 1920 Agriculture Census, and most recent data as of Feb. 28, 2020, from the 2019 Census State Agriculture Summaries. The 1920 Census figures were released in 1922, and even include some data for areas of the U.S. that weren’t even technically states yet, like Alaska and Hawaii (where bees were widely harvested to make honey and waxes).
While American farming has certainly expanded and increased its value since 1920, there were almost three times as many farms 100 years ago than there are today—in 1920 there were 6.5 million farms, while 2020 estimates come in at two million. Within each slide, we discuss the essence of a state’s agricultural economy then and now, significant changes in crops, legislation, and industry size, and other tidbits like where some of the earliest immigrant farmers arrived from. From Austrians in Delaware to Japanese farmers in Oregon, agricultural workers from around the world helped shape modern American farming. Click through to find out your state’s farming past, present, and future.
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- Number of farms: 256,099
- Average farm size: 76 acres
- Total farm acres: 19.6 million
Dairy produced some of Alabama’s most prized farm products in 1920, accounting for more than $15.2 million in value. Eggs and chickens were close behind, producing about $500,000 less. Overall, Alabama had over $30 million in value from livestock products.
- Number of farms: 39,700 (-84.5% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 214 acres (+179.9% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 8.5 million (-56.6% from 1920)
- Top crops: cotton ($311.2 million), hay & haylage ($226.1 million), corn ($157.1 million), peanuts ($114.6 million), soybeans ($113.9 million)
- Cattle inventory: 1.3 million
- Chicken production: 1.1 billion
Dairy is no longer a major industry in Alabama, but still accounts for about a $25 million impact on the economy. Cotton is now king and Alabama regularly ranks as one of the top 10 cotton producers in the U.S. In the future, hemp could be a crop to be on the lookout for in Alabama.
- Number of farms: 364
- Average farm size: 249 acres
- Total farm acres: 0.1 million
Alaska didn’t become a state until 1959, and their farming industry had yet to really take off in 1920—the value of all farm property was only about $1.8 million. Horses, cattle, and even reindeer could be found on Alaskan farmland at the time, while potatoes were one of the only bountiful crops.
- Number of farms: 1,000 (+174.7% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 850 acres (+241.3% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 0.9 million (+837.7% from 1920)
- Top crops: hay & haylage ($10.3 million), potatoes ($4.8 million), barley ($0.9 million), bedding plants, annual ($0.0 billion), corn ($0.0 billion)
- Cattle inventory: 16,000
One hundred years ago, hay and haylage accounted for only $219,075 in value on Alaskan farmland, but it is now the state’s most valuable crop. Alaska has a diverse range of products produced on farmland, including peonies, a flower that have traditionally been more valuable in Alaska than anywhere else in the U.S.
- Number of farms: 9,975
- Average farm size: 582 acres
- Total farm acres: 5.8 million
Despite only being a recognized U.S. state for eight years, Arizona quickly became a farming force in the union. By 1920, 8% of land area was farms, and the value of all farm property was over $233 million. Horses, cattle, swine, and poultry were all important parts of Arizona’s early farming base.
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- Number of farms: 19,200 (+92.5% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 1,365 acres (+134.7% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 26.2 million (+351.6% from 1920)
- Top crops: hay & haylage ($488.6 million), lettuce ($453.5 million), cotton ($142.6 million), melons ($87.0 million), spinach ($83.8 million)
- Cattle inventory: 1.0 million
Lettuce has become one of Arizona’s biggest crops, but growing the leafy greens occasionally come with peril, such as combatting e. coli outbreaks. Another concern in this farm-heavy state is that many of Arizona’s farmers are aging out. State government is trying to pass legislation to encourage incentives for more youth to enter the industry.
- Number of farms: 232,604
- Average farm size: 75 acres
- Total farm acres: 17.5 million
In 1920, almost 90% of farms in Arkansas had poultry, creating over $6 million in value. But chickens weren’t the biggest livestock money maker. Only 54% of Arkansas farms had horses and 75% had cattle, but those livestock accounted for $24 million and $35 million respectively in value.
- Number of farms: 42,500 (-81.7% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 327 acres (+335.7% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 13.9 million (-20.4% from 1920)
- Top crops: soybeans ($1.4 billion), rice ($1.1 billion), corn ($443.6 million), cotton ($385.0 million), hay & haylage ($234.8 million)
- Cattle inventory: 1.8 million
- Chicken production: 1.1 billion
Arkansas soybean production ranks in the top 10 nationally, producing more than 150 million bushels each year. Solar power is now used more frequently in Arkansas farming, and this southern state also boasts an agriculture hall of fame.
- Number of farms: 117,670
- Average farm size: 250 acres
- Total farm acres: 29.4 million
California was one of the only non-Midwest states in 1920 with farmland value exceeding $3 billion. A variety of fruits contributed to this thriving industry, with apples, peaches, pears, plums, and prunes each out-producing grapes at the time.
- Number of farms: 69,400 (-41.0% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 350 acres (+40.2% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 24.3 million (-17.3% from 1920)
- Top crops: grapes ($6.3 billion), almonds ($5.5 billion), pistachios ($2.6 billion), strawberries ($2.3 billion), hay & haylage ($1.3 billion)
- Cattle inventory: 5.2 million
Sorry to tell all you fans of 1980s kitsch, but California farming is more than just raisins (even though grapes now are the state’s most productive crop). Recently, serious wildfires have hampered farming in the Golden State. This led to a controversy when President Trump ordered to divert more water to the farming industry, which could impact local wildlife and power production.
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