By using new technologies, farmers can produce more food using fewer economic resources at lower costs.

One measure of technological change is total factor productivity (TFP). Increased TFP means that fewer economic resources (land, labor, capital and materials) are needed to produce a given amount of economic output.

However, TFP does not account for the environmental impacts of agricultural production; resources that are free to the farm sector (such as water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity) are not typically included in TFP.

As a result, TFP indexes may over- or under-estimate the actual resource savings from technological change.

Growth in global agricultural TFP began to accelerate in the 1980s, led by large developing countries like China and Brazil. This growth helped keep food prices down even as global demand surged.

This chart uses data available in International Agricultural Productivity on the ERS website, updated October 2014.