Edited by Stuart J. Smyth, Peter W.B. Phillips and David Castle
The use of non-labor inputs - such as land and capital, but also intermediate inputs like chemicals, fertilizers and seeds - have been an important driver of productivity gains in agriculture over the last 50 years (Alston et al., 2009). For example, in the US, the use of non-labor inputs has offset the dramatic decline in labor use in agriculture which is estimated to have fallen at a rate of 3.2 per cent per year since 1948 (Fuglie et al., 2007). The reduction in labor use, as well as lower land use in some countries, coupled with the increase of chemicals and machinery has meant that aggregate input use has remained constant. Yet agricultural output has almost trebled since 1961, with an average increase of 2.2 per cent per year (Wik et al., 2008), implying that technological advances have resulted in more productive inputs. Indeed total factor productivity (TFP), which measures the amount of output per unit of input, has increased 2.7 times since the early 1950s (Fuglie et al., 2007). High TFP growth has resulted in lower food prices, saved natural resources (especially land) and has allowed labor to be used in other sectors. The productivity gains in agriculture are largely a result of advances in biological sciences that have enabled plant breeders to develop crop varieties that are high yielding and of better quality.
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