Wednesday, November 17, 2010
At this year's Midwest museum conference Jim and I presented a paper titled, "Commodities, Cutbacks, Confinements and the Nematode: A Tale of Modern Agriculture and Dissent in America. It might seem like a strange presentation to give to a group of historians but it was meant to shed some light and perspective on where agriculture is today. From government payments to GPS guided equipment farming has definitely changed. One of my favorite quotes on the subject came from a professor I knew at Purdue, Dr. Don Paarlberg. He said, "If a farmer from Old Testament times could have visited an American farm in the year 1900, he would have recognized- and had the skill to use most of the tools he saw: the hoe, the plow, the harrow, the rake. If he were to visit an American farm today, he might think he was on a different planet. The changes that occurred in American agriculture during the 20th century exceeded in magnitude all the changes that had occurred during the 10,000 years since human beings first converted themselves from hunters and gatherers to herdsmen and cultivators." The advent of technology and it's adoption is not the only reason for the dramatic change in this field. The increase in world population and the decrease in available land have also shaped the direction of 21st century farming. In writing this program I found a couple of interesting points. Did you know that in the United States we are losing two acres of prime farmland a minute to development? Do we really need that new subdivision or mall? At this pace we are going to build right over the top of our dinner table. Another fact that I found somewhat alarming is the average age of the farmer is 56.2. While 50 isn't old it does give you some pause to think what that number might look like in say 20 years. Our abundance of food and those who raise it are easy to take for granted. That fact might be changing soon.