A greater diversity of crops on the farm is a healthy management practice that brings with it a multitude of benefits, including higher yields, reduced reliance on chemical pesticides for pest and weed control, and reduced reliance on fertilizers.
A recent study by Kansas State University, South Dakota State University, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) concluded that crop diversity has declined in the United States over the past 34 years.
We decided to take a deeper look into the current state of crop diversity on the farm using the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture. A big thank you goes out to our friends at the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service for helping us get the data cuts necessary for our analysis.
Some interesting takeaways:
- Size matters – the larger the farm, the more diverse it is. Is this due to the land being split up into separate crops or that larger landowners understand the value of protecting their soil fertility in the long-term so have adopted diverse management practices? Or something else entirely?
- Age matters – the younger the farmer, the more diverse his or her farm is. Bright-eyed farmers with more energy to handle multiple crop types or young farmers returning from college with best practices on their mind?
- Old habits are hard to break – surprisingly, when comparing across both the size of the farm and the age of the farmer, changes in crop diversity are very similar.
- Location matters – the Northeast is the most diverse, but North and South Dakota are also in the Top Ten. When looking into the reasoning of this, we found out that the Dakotas are well-known for their crop rotation practices. Unfortunately, Texas, my home state, came in dead last.
NOTE: we purposefully did not cite the absolute numbers in our key takeaways. We believe the relative positioning among groups should be the focus, rather than the preciseness of the numbers.
Please note that these are averages across farms. If you have any questions about the methodology, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.