Technological advances have contributed to impressive yield gains and have greatly altered US agriculture. Selective breeding and directed molecular techniques address biological shortcomings of plants and animals and overcome environmental limitations. Improvements in mechanization, particularly of power sources and harvest equipment, reduce labor requirements and increase productivity and worker safety. Conservation systems, often designed to overcome problems introduced from other technologies, reduce negative impacts on soil and water and improve the environmental sustainability of production systems. Advances in information systems, largely developed in other disciplines and adapted to agriculture, are only beginning to impact US production practices. This paper is the fourth in the series of manuscripts exploring drivers of US agricultural systems. While development of technology is still largely driven by a need to address a problem, adoption is closely linked with other drivers of agricultural systems, most notably social, political and economic. Here, we explore the processes of innovation and adoption of technologies and how they have shaped agriculture. Technologies have increased yield and net output, and have also resulted in decreased control by producers, increased intensification, specialization and complexity of production, greater dependence on non-renewable resources, increased production inputs and hence decreased return, and an enhanced reliance on future technology. Future technologies will need to address emerging issues in land use, decline in work force and societal support of farming, global competition, changing social values in both taste and convenience of food, and increasing concerns for food safety and the environment. The challenge for farmers and researchers is to address these issues and develop technologies that balance the needs of producers with the expectations of society and create economically and environmentally sustainable production systems.