"How has farming changed in the last 100 years?"

By Kennedy Bowling


Farming in the United States has changed a great deal in the last 100 years. Farming originated thousands of years ago, and, like many, I have a long history of farmers in my family. My maternal great-grandparents, like their parents, were farmers, and my paternal grandparents farmed in Kentucky to feed their seven children. My father tells stories of getting up early to milk the cows before school. After school, with the help of his siblings, bushels of tomatoes, green beans, and corn were picked for my grandmother to can. Farming is a monumental part of American culture. From early farmers that used horses and mules to plow their fields, to the farmers of today who use great machines to harvest their crops, farming has had a lasting influence on our country.

Most work that was done by farmers at the turn of the 20th century was human or animal labored. Horses were the most important animal on the farm, as they provided the power needed to operate heavy farm equipment required to plow and harvest fields. Farm animals pulled wagons, plows, and corn pickers along with many other machines, and the machinery used for farming during the early 1900s was much different than what is used today. 

Technological advancements have changed and improved farming; perhaps the greatest machine for farmers has been the tractor. Farmers’ first tractors were large, heavy, steam-powered machines that reduced the hours of work needed to produce bushels of produce, cotton and wheat. Before the tractor, farming was originally done with the muscle power of horses and mules, and about six acres of crops were set aside for the feeding of work animals. With the use of tractors, farmers were able to harvest those extra acres, increasing their production and crop sales. Today, with the help of technology, one farmer is able to feed 155 people, compared to 50 years ago, when one farmer could feed only 19 people. Over the years, farmers have changed the way they care for their animals. They discovered that different types of housing can make animals healthier and more productive. 

My family has often told me that “farmers are the backbone of the country.” I never truly understood that statement until I started to research more about farmers in the United States. I discovered that during World War I, increased farm production almost completely sustained the Allied Forces – the farming community helped win the war. Farmers provided a great number of crops for the war effort, and many farmers grew non-food crops, like wool used for military uniforms, jackets, coats and pants. This was an important event, because it showed that farmers could be counted on to provide great assistance during times of crisis. 

During the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, farms became more industrialized. With more machinery being used to farm, less manual labor was needed, decreasing the amount of people working on farms. Along with advancements in machinery, technology, and industrialization, the size of farms has also changed. According to an article published in 2017 by Betsy Freese for Agriculture.com, the acreage size of farms is increasing while the number of farms is decreasing. The article states that “The number of farms in the U.S. for 2016 is estimated at 2.06 million, down 8,000 farms from 2015 … The average farm size continued to increase in 2016 as the number of farms declined more than land in farms.” While big farms are adding more land, small family farms aren’t disappearing. Lucky for us living in Monroe, there are local farmers who provide dairy and produce for our local farm markets and grocery stores. 

Over the past 100 years, farming in the United States has changed with new advancements in machinery and technology. Today, some farmers rely on scientific technology, and use satellites to monitor drought, soil, and crop development. It is exciting to see how far the farming industry has come, and where it will go in future. Books are filled with history and inventions that have changed the face of farming, and anecdotes are passed from generation to generation. We have many great stories of farmers and how they came to the aid of our country during times of war, how the technology that helps them has developed and improved, and how farmers today work hard to bring healthy food to our table. When I grow up and have children of my own, I can only imagine what stories I will be able to tell. 

Works Cited

Encyclopedia.com, www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/agriculture-and-horticulture/agriculture-general/agricultural-revolution .

Freese, Betsy. “‘Number of Farms in U.S. Drops as Acreage Size Grows.’” Agriculture.com, 17 Feb. 2017, www.agriculture.com/news/business/farms-in-us-drops-size-grows.

“‘Early 20th Century Farming Practices.’” CampSilos.org, www.campsilos.org/excursions/hc/three/s1d.htm .

“‘Five Ways the Tractor Changed American Farming.’” Smithsonian Insider.edu, insider.si.edu/2018/03/five-facts-tractors-revolutionized-american-farming/ .

“‘Post War/Cold War (1945 - 1968).” Farming the United States of America,     farmingtheunitedstatesofamerica.weebly.com/post-warcold-war.html .

“‘WWI (1914 - 1918)".” Farming the United States of America, http://farmingtheunitedstatesofamerica.weebly.com/wwi.html