Friday, August 28, 2009

Damn Farm Mechanization!

Farms are not just places. They are not land title or economic theory.

They are a continuum.

Dinosaurs and mammoths once roamed the farms I hunt, followed by native Americans, African Americans, and European Americans who fought, bled, cried and died in the fields, forests and hedgerows where I now hunt my dogs.

The stones at the edges of my fields were not pushed their by a tractor. They were picked up or dug out by hand, rolled and stacked onto wooden sledges, and pulled to their current location by sweating men working teams of horses.

I dig my dogs in fields and forests where the Civil War was fought.

In my part of America, farm labor is not an abstraction. It is a wound that has healed, but the scars still remain.

In the last week, I have been told that we used to treat our animals better than we do today and that our food once tasted better too.

Not true.

But saying it is one thing, while showing it is another.

And so I have decided to start an occasional pictorial series on American farms with each series showcasing one crop or animal, farmed or raises all over the U.S, with the pictures organized in chronological order.

We will start with cotton.

Cotton picking, Georgia, 1865-70

Cotton picking, Texas, 1907

Cotton picking, Oklahoma, 1916

Cotton, crop dusting for the new boll weevil , 1928

Cotton pickers and wagons, Tennessee, 1931

Cotton field plowing, South Carolina, 1932

Child cotton pickers, Arkansas, fall harvest, 1935.

John Rust and the first cotton picking machine, 1937

Cotton labor and wagon, Georgia, 1941

Cotton picking machine loads wagon, Georgia, 1956

Cotton weeding with overseer, Alabama: 1970

Weeding cotton fields, Mississippi, 1973

Loading cotton from machines, Mississippi, 1995

Cotton bales, North Carolina, 1990

Cotton, tractor spraying, Mississippi, 1991

Mechanical cotton picker, California, 1999

Spraying cotton fields, Mississippi, 2000

I do not begrudge farmers their air-conditioned cabs from which they can now plow, harvest and spray their fields to kill weevils and worms.

Nor do I beat by breast in anguish because genetically modified crops may soon make spraying pesticides a thing of the past.

I do not romanticize hoeing long rows by hand, nor do I worry too much about the impact that glyphosate (RoundUp) has on wildlife.

You see, America's farms now have more deer on them that at any time in the last 100 years.

They also have more turkey, fox, raccoon, duck and geese.

And the farms are strong.

They produce more hay, corn, soybean, wheat, chicken, pigs, eggs, fruit, vegetables, milk and beef than ever before.

And because they produce so much, more land is now allowed to lie fallow.

Look at the pictures above.

What farm do you want to work on?

Which one is more productive?

Which one has more wildlife?'


HTTrainer said...

I think you've got some good points here, the economics make sense for farmers to capitalize on their businesses and make farming as efficient as possible. I am thankful we can apply this to many areas of farming. I have seen farms in all areas of the country, I do not begrudge these people anything either, their equipment is as impressive as what is shown in the films and documentaries of the 30's showing wheat harvesting with team after team of horses, mules and men bringing in the crops of wheat and corn.
What I do not like is that many of these superfarms are destroying other habitats, the habitats and rangelands for upland birds. These habitats were found on small croplands surrounded by pastures, grassy fields and at edges of forests or treelines. You cannot operate the big equipment in a small field. It's progress for some wildlife at the expense of others.
So progress bring both a blessing and a cautionary warning.

PBurns said...

You are 100% right about big rigs needing big field, and the resulting loss in the kind of old field edge habitate for pheasant and quail that used to exist. See where I detail the loss of hedgerow in the U.S and the UK.

On the other hand (and there is an other hand), check out all this land that has been taken out of production and put into the Conservation Reserve Program >>

That's 50,000 square miles of land for hunters and wildlife. Not bad!


retrieverman said...

Opposition to agricultural technology isn't a new thing. When the manors were fenced off into private holdings-- starting from the reign of Henry VII until the eighteenth century-- people were really ticked off. Fencing off the land, though, allowed for selective breeding and more efficient meat and wool production. In the nineteenth century, there were actual agrarian revolts against agricultural machines. In 1830, these exploded into what were called the Swing Riots:

It didn't matter that the machines produced more food to feed the population. Farm workers were losing their jobs and were not paid well.

PBurns said...

The history of dogs (and all modern livestock production)comes from the beginning of enclosure, which drove people off the land. Mechanization, of course, followed and has only increased its velocity.

I have a pictorial history of how the enclosure movement shaped dogs (and terriers in particular) here >>