How to Improve Agricultural Productivity

by Timothea Xi; Updated September 26, 2017
Rows of corn ready for harvest

With the prospect of feeding 9 to 10 billion people worldwide by the year 2050, farmers are faced the task of boosting agricultural production by 70 percent, says sustainability consultant Julie Menter. Meeting this challenge won't be easy, she says, as U.S. farmers are used to a chemical-reliant system of agriculture that is not conducive to the assimilation of new technologies. Absent financial incentives by government programs, farmers will have to take the initiative to seek out new tools and solutions.

Total Factor Productivity

Agricultural productivity is typically measured by output per unit of land or per worker. However, improving agricultural productivity requires more than just focusing on high yields, but also how those yields were attained through a given combination of machines, chemicals, labor and other inputs -- a metric known as Total Factor Productivity. Farmers should keep track of TFP if they want a more accurate assessment of the efficiency of the productivity gains they have made. The more TFP is responsible for improved output, as opposed to simply increased inputs driving the gains, the more efficient that productivity is.

Information and Communication Technology

According to World Bank website ICT in Agriculture, smallholder farmers face the disadvantage of not having the same abundant information resources that larger industrial producers do in their quest for productivity. This is where Information and Communication Technology fills the void. An ICT is any device or application that allows the exchange of data through transmission, encompassing a range of tools including satellites and mobile phones. On this front, farmers can use data collection technologies such as infrared sensors to determine soil characteristics, in conjunction with data analysis tools including spatial modeling, which can predict yields under various real-world conditions.

Sustainable Land Intensification

As ICT in Agriculture notes, increased land use to increase productivity will not be a feasible option for farmers, as this will bring on negative environmental and social costs, such as deforestation and loss of biodiversity. To produce more without using more land, farmers can intensify the productive capacity of their existing land with precision technology. Through its combination of global positioning systems, geographical information systems and variable-rate technologies, precision farming allows farmers to more precisely apply inputs such as fertilizer or pesticides. Other sustainable land management practices, such as crop rotation and organic soil cover, improve productivity while preserving the environment.

Agricultural Research and Farmer Training

While the technology may exist to increase agricultural productivity, farmers have to stay in the loop of agricultural research developments by seeking training through their local agricultural extension programs. Government-sponsored extension services provide information on crop and livestock management practices and reduce the lag time between the development of new technologies and their adoption. Farmers can consult with extension agents directly about specific production problems, or turn to private sector crop consultants to speed up the productivity learning curve.

About the Author

Timothea Xi has been writing business and finance articles since 2013. She has worked as an alternative investment adviser in Miami, specializing in managed futures. Xi has also worked as a stockbroker in New York City.

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