The real cost of food dropped as farmers and ranchers increased their scale of production and adopted new equipment, chemicals, and hybrids. Some consumers, willing to pay higher prices, supported small-scale local production, but most Americans remained comfortable with large-scale commercial production. Public concern about the environment and food safety increased.

Experimental gene gun, 1986

One of the earliest ways to introduce foreign DNA into plants, this prototype gene gun, cobbled together from scrapped parts, shot DNA-coated micro-particles into plant cells.

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American agriculture became highly efficient. In 1900 more than 40 percent of American workers were farmers; in 2000 they numbered fewer than 2 percent.

Roundup Ready soybean souvenir, 1996

Soybeans resistant to weed killer were the first widely successful genetically engineered crop. While expensive, the new seeds made plowing or hand-weeding unnecessary.

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Organic farmers promotional sticker, 2013

Hagie sprayer model, 2013

The addition of GPS guidance and electronically controlled nozzle shutoffs on agricultural sprayers greatly reduced over-application of pesticides, weed killers, and fertilizer.

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“No Till” sign, Princeton, Illinois, mid-1980s

To reduce soil erosion and moisture loss, many farmers adopted conservation tillage. Using plants resistant to weed killers meant plowing to control weeds was unnecessary.

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Tractor guidance device, 2004

GPS equipment controlled steering and the amount of seed, fertilizer, and chemicals applied, and recorded crop-yield information. Farmers studied the data to improve their practice.

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“Say no to plumping” sticker and toy, 2009

California poultry producer Foster Farms ran humorous ads distinguishing their “all natural” chicken from competitors’ “all natural” chicken that had been “plumped” with saltwater.

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Screenshot of the Global Era digital labels interactive displayWould you like to learn even more about these objects and other related stories? Click on the screenshot above to open an interactive display in a new window.