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Let # of farmers in 1850 and 1880 be f1 and f2 and the population be p1 and p2 respectively.
The passage says:
(f2-f1)/f1 < (p2-p1)/p1
or, f2/f1 < p2/p1
or, f2/p2 < f1/p1
or, percent of farmers in pop @ 1880 < percent of farmers in pop @ 1850