Category: Farming

How Farming In The US Has Changed In The Last 50 Years

Farmers love what they do. In 1935, there were about 7 million farms in America, the vast majority run by families. Farms stayed in the family for generations. Old MacDonald ran a standard farm.

Ninety percent of those farms were without power. The Rural Electrification Act, which brought electricity and telephones to the countryside, was passed in 1935 and farms and farming began to change.

By 1965, the majority of rural America was powered up. Now there are just over 2 million farms in the US. Those farms, however, are still owned and operated by families. But while there are fewer farms, they are more productive. A farmer in the 1960s could feed around 26 people. Today’s farmer can feed 155.

What has caused this increase in productivity? The answer is technology in various forms.

1. Farm Machinery

  • Tractors – Up into the 1960s, animal power was still used to pull wagons and plows on some American farms. When tractors replaced horses, productivity increased. More land could be plowed.
  • Plows – Modern plows can turn over multiple rows at one time.
  • Seeders – These machines plant the seeds in multiple rows at the same time.
  • Combines or combine harvesters – These huge machines have taken over the tedious work of hand picking.
  • Milking machines – Automatic machines make milking multiple cows at one time possible.
  • Automatic feeders – Barns now come with built-in machinery, such as automatic feeders.

2. Crop Management

  • Soil testing techniques – Evaluation of soil samples enables the farmer to determine what nutrients must be added in order to produce the best yield.
  • Pest control – The development of eco-friendly pesticides and herbicides, along with new fertilizers, has increased productivity per acre.
  • Land management – The science involved in crop management has advanced tremendously. Today’s farmer is a scientist.
  • Genetics – Breeding programs have been going on for many centuries, since long before Mendel. Now new, hardier, more pest resistant varieties are being produced.

3. Animal Husbandry

  • Change in environment – The biggest change is moving animals to more comfortable living conditions inside.
  • Controlled temperatures – Barns use sprinklers and fans to cool the animals during the hot summer months. Some barns are even airconditioned.
  • Protection from pests and predators. – The inside environment is protective.

4. Specialization

  • No multiple crop farms – Crop farmers now produce one, or at most two, crops per season. They are set up for corn or wheat or soybeans. It enables them to produce the greatest yield per acre in the most efficient way.
  • Single animal farms – In the past, farmers would raise beef cattle, a few dairy cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, etc. Now it’s just one animal. Dairy cattle or beef cattle, not both.
  • Sub specialization – Some farms have gone an extra step. Farrowing farms only birth pigs. That’s all they do. Other farms specializes in artificial insemination. Some in raising young animals. The narrower the focus, the more efficient the farm is.

Besides increasing the productivity of farms, these changes in farming have resulted in fewer farm workers, better educated farmers, and mechanization of the whole process. Goodbye, Old MacDonald.

How to Get Into Farming

If you have an interest in farming and contributing to American agriculture, it’s a great time to get started due to the increasing demands on the agriculture industry.

Having the proper tools and resources is vital to your continued growth and success. Although it can feel overwhelming not knowing where to start, there are a few important steps to take as you learn the ropes.

Utilize Different Resources

Fortunately, many resources are available to help you get started with your farming endeavors to ensure you’re equipped.

The Farmer Resource Network is a great place to find different types of resources and includes a convenient search tool.

You can also access the ATTRA’s Internship and Apprenticeship Database to find opportunities for farming internships in the local area to learn from experienced farmers. You’ll get a firsthand experience and proper training by spending time on an actual farm.

Learn the Science

As an aspiring first generation farmer, it’s important to learn as much as possible about agriculture.

Although getting a degree isn’t required, it’s important to learn the science behind farming to ensure you can effectively solve problems that arise each season. Prioritize reading to learn about the science of farming, as well as other types of aspects of the business.

You’ll need to become educated on leadership principles, operational structures, and even accounting concepts to develop confidence with your skills and expertise.

Form the Right Relationships

Although many people attempt to network with as many people as possible when getting started in the industry, it’s more important to find relationships where trust is present.

You’ll need to find a mentor who has your best interest in mind and can help you avoid mistakes as you’re starting out.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

When you’re working hard towards becoming a farm owner, keep your current job as long as possible to reduce your risk of financial loss.

Although you may be passionate about farming, you still need to be able to pay your bills to avoid getting into debt.

Have patience with the process, knowing that you’ll put yourself at less of a risk if you wait as long as possible to transition to becoming a full-time farmer.

Ask Questions

Asking questions is key to understanding why you’re meant to do tasks a certain way.

Having more of an understanding of the different parts of farming will go farther than just trying to appear knowledgeable.

It’s important to continue to learn and always have the right people who can give you answers when you have questions.

Become More Creative

Thinking outside of the box is key to attaining success as a new farmer and overcoming challenges you may face in the agriculture industry.

Consider thinking about different foods that other farmers aren’t growing in the local area, which can allow you to become more competitive. You can also consider what you can offer to a local farmer to ensure they assist and guide you with your own farm.

Although your passion can motivate you to work hard and develop your farm, other factors will contribute to your success as a first generation farmer. Forming the right relationships with veteran farmers or having access to different resources available will allow you to have the advantage and become more confident in your abilities.