What are the root causes of the major change in farming systems from a diversified, crop-animal integrated model to industrial, specialized methods of producing crops? (Francis, 2015)
Agriculture has changed dramatically throughout history. Our grandparents might have answer differently than us on how they got their food. When the population was relatively small and dispersed, farmers implemented crop-animal integrated model as their farming system. Multiple types of plants and animals were grown together which enabled farmers and the communities for self-sufficiency (Hurt, 2002). These traditional practices have tremendously changed over the course of history, and modern industrial techniques are now used for producing crops. Crop production in the United States is extensive, covering 18 percent of the surface area of the lower forty-eight states and producing more than $216 billion in sales in 2012 (Schnepf, 2013). Population growth and industrial revolution are the crucial factors that have contributed to the change in the farming system.
A resource video on YouTube explains the agricultural revolution. This video is a part of ClickView AU/NZ original series- The Industrial Revolution. The host states, the industrial revolution began in the Britain in the early part of the 18th century. Prior to this revolution, people lived in agrarian societies with open field villages and farming was greatly influenced by seasons and weather. Mostly, people relied on subsistence farming which produced enough food for the family and the community. During this time, farmers used rotating crops technique over three fields with one field fallow. This fallow field was used to raise livestock and simultaneously to fertilize the soil. During 1730s, Lord Turnip Townshend introduced the Dutch Four Crop Rotation system in Britain which helped in maintaining the nutrients in the soil (ClickView AU/NZ, 2015). And this was just a start of the agricultural revolution.
(Source: ClickView AU/NZ -YouTube Channel)
There are 323 million people in the United States and only 2 percent comprises of farm and ranch families produces the food, including fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy, that everyone eats. Over 200 hundred years ago, the population of the U.S. was just over 5 million, and a large percent of the population lived on farms. The farmers produced their own food to eat and provided for a small community. As the population grew, the demand for food supply increased. Farm lands were comparatively small, and the farmers had to meet these new supply standards. Farmers started buying more land from the neighbors and the farms became larger (Francis, 2015). Plowing the large farmland with horses was not efficient which resulted in the use of larger machinery like the tractor. As these larger types of machinery became available and easy to implement, more farms merged, the need for labor reduced, and people moved to cities for seeking higher income jobs (Francis, 2015).
Industrial Revolution was the transition of going from hand production to machine driven manufacturing and production. Technology emerged and agricultural techniques improved with the implementation of mechanical seeders, steel plow, and steam-powered threshers (Francis, 2015). A single farmer could manage a large farmland using these machines. Enhanced irrigation systems and abundance of natural resources led farmers from diverse farming to more specialized methods like monoculture fields in which a single crop, plant, or livestock is grown. Industrialization introduced a term “technological treadmill” in which those who run fast keep buying more land and accessing production inputs, whereas others fall behind or fall off the treadmill (Cochran, 1993).
Prior to industrialization, practices involving raising livestock were unchanged for eight thousand years with outdoor access to animals and with diversified farms (Kim, Horrigon, Love &, Nachman, 2015). Traditionally, farmers usually raised livestock on pasture and also grew the feed they needed to sustain their animals over the winter. As prices dropped, farmers added more land to make up their lost income, which then caused more supply and further price drops (Food & Water Watch, 2010). Over the last few decades, farmers started implementing factory farms over livestock farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs, and chickens in tightly packed facilities. Farmers have adopted factory-farming practices with modern techniques and equipment to raise the livestock with minimal labor.
Crop rotation was practiced in the early days to avoid pathogen and pest buildup on one specific crop species if produced continuously. This practice also balanced the soil nutrition by planting legumes and pastures in rotation as a nitrogen source. With the use of chemical fertilizers, natural nitrogen source was eliminated and, as a result, raising the livestock became a specialized industry separate from food crop production (Francis, 2015). Also, chemical herbicides eliminated the need to control the weeds. Technological advances such as Global Positioning System became started guiding in the application of the fertilizer and the herbicide (Francis, 2015).
As discussed, these social, geographical, and technological changes took place over the years, which more or less contributed to changes in the farming systems from a diversified, crop-animal integrated model to industrial, specialized methods of producing crops. I believe we are in the technological revolution right now and the changes in the farming techniques and practices will continue for coming years.
Boserup, E. (1975). The Impact of Population Growth on Agricultural Output. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 89(2), 257-270.
ClickView AU/NZ (2015, August 10). Causes of the Industrial Revolution: The Agricultural Revolution [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QKIts2_yJ0
Fast Facts about Agriculture. (2015). In Farm Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.fb.org/newsroom/fastfacts/
Food & Water Watch (2010). Factory Farm Nation – How America Turned Its Livestock Farms into Factories. Retrieved from http://www.factoryfarmmap.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/FactoryFarmNation-web.pdf
Francis, C. A. (2015). Crop Production and Food Systems. In R. A. Neff (Ed.), Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity (pp. 265-287). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Intensive farming. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intensive_farming
Kim, B. F., Horrigan, L., Love, D.C., & Nachman, L. K. (2015). Food animal production. In R. Neff (ed.), Introduction to the U.S. food system: Public health, environment, and equity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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