Livestock production, which not so long ago depended primarily on the pitchfork and scoop shovel, now uses many complicated and highly sophisticated machines for handling water, feed, bedding, and manure, as well as for the many special operations involved in producing milk and eggs. Such machinery has facilitated the full or partial replacement of human- and animal-powered equipment in developed countries and increasingly in developing countries as well. The net result has been higher productivity and the welcome elimination of much of the drudgery of manual farm labor. For example, one person involved in agricultural production can now provide enough food and fiber for 128 others whereas only a century ago one person could provide food and fiber for only eight others (see also, Technology and Power in Agriculture).
For these reasons (environmental enhancement, sustainability) intensive research and development in renewable fuels (including oilseed oils and alcohols) continues and has lead to a small number of commercial applications in niche markets. The future market for renewable fuel use is difficult to predict but will remain an active issue in the continuing debate on alternative fuels for vehicles including agricultural vehicles. Finally, the use of on-farm generated electricity, as opposed to that purchased from a utility, is discussed below (see also, Agriculture and Autonomous Power Supply). Apart from tractors, the agricultural equipment that has most caught the public imagination has been crop harvesters probably because of their (frequently massive) size, multiplicity of functions and bewildering variety of designs reflecting the huge variety in crop products and growth patterns whether the product to be harvested resides in the soil, above the soil surface, or on bushes or trees. Harvesting equipment is described in detail in Harvesters (EOLSS on-line, 2002).