Fact Check: Reynolds says one Iowa farmer feeds 155 people worldwide

Lieutenant governor made claim at Cultivation Corridor event in Des Moines

Justin Wan/The Gazette

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at Englert Theater in Iowa City on May 15.
Justin Wan/The Gazette Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at Englert Theater in Iowa City on May 15.


"Iowa agriculture and biosciences have made great strides in the past few decades. Today it's an Iowa farmer that produces enough food to feed 155 people worldwide. Compare that to the Iowa farmer, who in 1970 produced enough food to feed 73 individuals."

Source of claim

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds during an unveiling of the Cultivation Corridor brand in Des Moines.


Iowa is known for its agriculture and state leaders remain supportive of farmers in the state and across the country.

Reynolds's staff said they found the fact that one American farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people worldwide from a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released in 2010. According to the report, “A Briefing on the Status of Rural America,” the number of people fed annually by one American farmer steadily increased over the years from 73 people in the 1970s, 129 people in the 1990s, 139 people per farmer in 2000s and 155 in 2010.

Calculations were done by the USDA until the 1970s, then the American Farm Bureau Federation picked began doing it, according to the farm bureau.

Bob Young, chief economist with the farm bureau, said that with the updated census data released this year on information from 2012, one American farmer could feed 160 people.

That calculation is based on a ratio, he explained. Young and other economists take the cash receipts from farm ag products — in 2012 that was $395 billion — and subtract the trade balance — $38 billion that year. The resulting number is divided back into that $395 billion.

Economists take the 2012 population of the United States, 313 million people, divided by the 2.17 million farms in the United States.

The statistic uses the number of farms, not farmers. The census does report there were 3.2 million farmers in 2012. When asked how the global impact could be determined using only the U.S. population, Young said the statistic draws from trade data that's both imported and exported internationally.

He admitted the statistic isn't perfect, but it provides a consistent look at the effect of farm production and reliance on farmers over the past several decades.

However, everything farmers produce isn't just eaten by people but used for other purposes such as biofuels and animal feed. For example, David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist, estimated roughly 40 percent of the nation's corn crop goes into ethanol.

The farm bureau's calculation doesn't take this into account. Swenson said the ratio provides a general idea that demonstrates American farmers are generating products for a significant amount of people.


Although Reynolds said one Iowa farmer feeds 155 people worldwide, the actual statistic she draws from spreads out the data to include the products generated from all of America's farmers.

When examining how many people one farmer feeds, the figure doesn't consider the breakdown of how agricultural products are consumed — not only to feed people but diverted for other uses. The calculation doesn't appear to take into account the nuances in how the use of agricultural products have changed over the years.

We rate the fact Reynolds used as mostly true.


Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's 2010 Briefing on the Status of Rural America:

U.S. Farms and Farmers 2012 Census of Agriculture report highlights:

USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture Farm Demographics:

Iowa Farm Bureau:

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.