How many people does one farmer feed in a year?

Nothing's Perfect: Flaws in the Calculation

Misshapen produce sometimes isn’t even harvested because it’s unlikely to be purchased by consumers.
Misshapen produce sometimes isn’t even harvested because it’s unlikely to be purchased by consumers.

The fact that the method for calculating how many people one farmer feeds in a year is based on farms rather than farmers is not the only flaw in the final statistic. The number is also incomplete because it doesn't take into account the difference between crops we eat versus crops we don't eat, nor does it account for the amount of food grown that never makes it to the table.

Not all agricultural products are actually intended to feed people, but that isn't figured into the Farm Bureau's statistic. For example, corn has the honor of being the largest crop grown in the U.S., but as much as 40 percent of the corn U.S. farmers grow is turned into corn ethanol, which is used as an oxygenate in the gasoline for your car. More is used to feed livestock, and in the end only about 12 percent of it ends up as corn chips or high fructose corn syrup.

Soybeans, the second-largest crop, also face this problem. While crops are turned into soybean oil, which we do eat, as much as 47 percent supplies soy meal to feed animals. That translates into more than 30 million tons of soy meal earmarked for animal consumption [sources: EPA - Ag Center, Sustainable Table]. Soybeans are also used to make products not intended for human or animal consumption. Crayons, for example. One acre of soybeans is needed to make 82,368 crayons, and Crayola, for instance, makes about 3 billion crayons every year [sources: Wisconsin Soybean Association, Crayola].

And then there's the food that's intended to be eaten, but that we let go to waste. Americans throw away about 40 percent of what our U.S. farms grow for us. Sometimes that's because it's spoiled, but not always — 14 percent of food waste in the U.S. is actually edible food when we discard it [source: Gunders]. Despite food waste, the problem of uneaten food doesn't lie solely with consumers. Farmers and retailers also contribute to the problem. Some years as much as 6 billion pounds of American-grown fruits and vegetables are left unharvested either because demand for that fruit or vegetable is low or because the fruits and vegetables themselves aren't in model condition — tomatoes must be perfectly round and red, or we won't buy them. And according to the National Resources Defense Council, even when the product does make it to the store, retailers throw away as much as 43 billion pounds of food from their shelves [source: Gunders].