The trend toward concentrated production on specialized operations, while a concern for some, has had economic benefits that should be weighed against potential costs. The changing farming practices discussed here, along with others such as wider use of irrigation and growing adoption of precision agriculture technologies (see The Information Age and Adoption of Precision Agriculture), have allowed the farm sector to increase total output by nearly 50 percent over the past three decades, even as resources used in farming declined. These freed resources have been applied elsewhere, contributing to increased productivity throughout the economy. And consumers of farm products have benefited, too. Despite occasional price spikes and recent trends to the contrary, price increases for agricultural commodities have lagged far behind both economy-wide price increases and increases in prices of agricultural inputs over most of the last 30 years.

The combination of changes in farming practices, conservation program funding, and other structural trends have also resulted in environmental benefits, at least relative to the environmental consequences of producing today’s output using the farming practices of the 1970s. Changes in practices like tillage and livestock feed efficiency, when coupled with efforts by farmers to improve nutrient and pest management (often with financial help from and prodding by various levels of government), have helped limit soil erosion and nutrient runoff. As a result, the environmental footprint for the average unit of agricultural output produced has shrunk.