The calendar has turned to fall, and the weather is slowly following suit. Harvest is underway with combines rolling through fields and semis hauling grain to elevators and on-farm bins. There’s more of those bins and semis now than ever before because there’s more grain.
Over time, small changes can make an extraordinary impact. Of all the crops being cut this season, corn is perhaps the best example of how slow, steady progress has created grain harvests our ancestors could have never fathomed.
From the 1860s to the late 1930s, corn yields were essentially flat at 26 bushels per acre. The USDA’s latest estimate for the 2021 crop is projecting a nationwide average of about 175 bushels per acre. Over the span of about 80 years, farmers have increased their production nearly seven-fold. Yields for other grains have shot up too, but corn takes the crown in overall productivity.