Our Story, Volume II - Machines are changing farming practices (2023)

Machines are changing farming practices

Our Story, Volume II - Machines are changing farming practices (1)
The era of mechanized agriculture was born around the turn of the century with devices like the Hart-Parr gasoline engine. The gasoline engine did a lot to change the way of farming. (photo by Smithson)

Swinging hand scythes in uniform arcs, American colonial farm workers harvested wheat using ancient Egyptian technology.
Today, just two centuries later, a one-man harvester rolls through the fields, doing a job that would require dozens of farmers in the colony.
Not only did this great technological revolution move American agriculture from being self-sufficient to supplying much of the world, it also meant that spillovers would have a huge impact on American society.
Man would become obsolete in many agricultural activities, and the consequent wave of migration to cities would create social problems that still evade collusion. Changes took place so quickly that an orderly transition from rural to urban society could not be achieved. However, without these advances, humanity will face an even greater problem of hunger.

A story about mechanization

The story of the mechanization of American agriculture and its impact on American history may have begun with the same prolific minds that conceived the concepts that led to the American Revolution.
Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were probably as interested in agriculture as they were in founding a new nation.
Washington continually sought better agricultural implements for his Mount Vernon plantation, corresponding with progressive British farmers.
Jefferson, an amateur inventor, tinkered with many devices designed to improve agriculture.

shared concerns

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While Jefferson's designs were rarely practical, the concerns he and Washington shared about improving agriculture reflected a concern for the land, as 9 out of 10 workers were involved in agriculture.
Virginia aristocrats may have shared concerns with typical planters in 1776, but they certainly did not share a lifestyle.
The life of the typical farmer was less attractive than that of the Virginia aristocrats. To earn a living, the colonial farmer cleared virgin lands with axes and oxen, cleared the land with ox-drawn wooden plows, sowed and harvested by hand, and processed them with primitive hand tools. Aristocrats had their hired servants and slaves to do this kind of work.

Red cloaks and tomahawks

Although life on the colonial farm was very romantic, simple and free of modern problems like crime, poverty and external threats, it was far from utopian.
A more severe form of "attack" came with the Indian raids; "foreign menaces" roamed the countryside in British uniforms, and poverty, which in those days meant more hunger than low income, was an inevitable consequence of crop failure.
The first great American agricultural invention came in 1793, in the country's infancy: Eli Whitney gin.
The cotton gin, which separated the lint from the seed, not only made possible a great new harvest in the South, it also revived the moribund institution of slavery and helped lead to the Civil War.

watch the plow

The plow piqued the interest of many inventors. The first patented plow was designed by Charles Newbold. The Newbold plow was made of solid cast iron, except for the handles and beam.
However, few farmers wanted to try the new tool, as many were convinced that iron poisoned the soil and caused weeds to grow.

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wooden plow

In 1814, Jethro Wood patented another cast-iron plow and perfected it in 1819. The mouldboard, coulter and skid were cast in three replaceable pieces, which made it possible to replace the damaged parts. The wooden plow was popular.
As farmers moved west toward the prairies, another problem faced the plow. The prairie soil stuck to the wood and iron plows instead of slipping and tipping over.
In 1833, Illinois blacksmith John Lane came up with the idea of ​​attaching strips of a steel saw to wooden mouldboards. Another Illinois blacksmith, John Deere, used a steel saw and plain wrought iron for washers and blades. By 1846, Deere and his partner were producing 1,000 plows a year.
Attention was also drawn to the problem of harvesting. Obed Hussey patented a horse-drawn combine in 1833. Around the same time, Cyrus H. McCormick completed the design his father had begun and patented his combine in 1834. By 1851, 1,000 McCormick combines were being produced each year to dominate the business. .
The corn cultivator preceded the harvester. It was in limited use in the 1820s, along with the rotary rakes. In 1837, the Pitts brothers patented a widely used threshing machine.
In the Civil War, a variety of horse-drawn equipment included grain augers, corn huskers, hay balers, various types of cultivators, and many other agricultural implements.

Farmers with reluctance

However, most farmers were reluctant to invest in expensive new equipment as labor was plentiful and cheap and good prices were relatively low. The equipment was available, but there was no desire to try.
Then, in 1861, South Carolina troops opened fire on a federal installation at Fort Sumter. The huge supply of labor suddenly disappeared as thousands of farm workers joined the Union and Confederate armies. With the great demand for food for the great armies, prices skyrocketed.
The roar of the cannons started the horses' work day and marked the end of the manual work day. With these new incentives, farmers quickly accepted horse machines.
With the end of the war, Union soldiers found that their farm work had been replaced by horse-drawn machinery, and Confederate soldiers returned to the ruins of a single-crop farming system.
Something else, perhaps equally significant, emerged from the war; the day when a farm worker could start his own business by acquiring cheap land and a few tools is gone forever.
The dream of having a farm was limited by spending on machines that should be competitive.

The surplus problem

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Even those who managed to buy machines found themselves in serious trouble. The virtue of machines - increased production - resulted in surpluses that drove down prices. Farmers became more dependent on bankers and merchants.
In 1850, each farmer had an average of $7 invested in equipment. By 1880, that number had nearly quadrupled. The war forced farmers to engage in commercial production and to rely on the necessary machinery.
As a result of these investments, farmers faced a constant struggle between 1870 and 1900 to produce enough to pay for their machines.

A wave of migration

Along with this trend, the number of available agricultural jobs has declined as machines have replaced workers. A wave of farmers began to move into towns where there was no work. This spawned urban slums and the resulting social problems of crime and poverty.
In the early years of the 20th century, most attention was still focused on the development of machines to increase production. Soil was a neglected resource, as it was common practice to abandon land when it was depleted. In the vast undeveloped land, few people bothered to enrich the soil. Yields per hectare rarely increased from year to year.

twilight horse

Meanwhile, the day of the horse was approaching dusk as people's minds turned to the power of steam and oil. Steam engines were used to thresh wheat on large western farms. In 1913, 10,000 of these devices were produced. After that, its use drastically declined when gasoline powered tractors hit the market.
The first practical self-propelled gasoline tractor was built in 189+2 by John Froelich of Iowa, who mounted a gasoline engine on a chassis equipped with traction devices. Froelich was the forerunner of John Deere tractors.

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wars help machines

However, something else was needed to transform these devices from novelty to widespread acceptance. Both the adoption of gas-powered equipment and the horse as a source of work share a common trigger: the outbreak of war. In both cases, wartime labor shortages forced farmers to turn to labor-saving technologies.
During World War I, agricultural prices rose and labor shortages developed similarly to the Civil War. Once again, farmers were quick to adopt the best equipment available to save labor and increase productivity. Tractor sales soared.
However, in July 1920, farm prices plummeted, and by the 1920s, the farm economy looked so poor that farmers were reluctant to switch to expensive tractors.
Just before the war, New Deal programs that encouraged farmers to replace worn-out machines with current models created more reason to change. The rural electrification program opened up a huge new source of energy. The stage was well set for the "Second American Agricultural Revolution."
The shift to mechanization was only part of this revolution. Great advances were made in seed cultivation, soil protection, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. The result was a systemic approach to agriculture and the results were amazing in terms of production.
However, there is also a dark side to this story. What happened to the millions of Americans who were no longer needed on the farm?
Looking just at the years between 1950 and 1975, agricultural employment dropped by 66%, or 5.6 million. It is expected to fall another 10% by 1980.
The impact in many rural areas was catastrophic, with small urban businesses, schools and even churches having devastating effects as economies suffered and people faced unemployment or migration.

Displaced agricultural workers

In the early 1960s, a steady stream of migrants poured into cities, compounding already severe economic and social problems. Other displaced workers remained in rural areas, living in deep poverty.
However, in recent years there has been an optimistic tone as signs increasingly point to a recovery in rural economies and a steady decline in migration to cities.
It is true that the mechanization of agriculture was accompanied by serious social problems. But consider the alternatives.
Without the highly mechanized American agricultural system, world hunger would be much more severe. And without the backbone of agricultural exports, the balance of trade would be tipped dangerously against the United States, with the cost of foreign oil soaring and the value of the dollar falling, driving inflation even higher.

— Wayne D. Rasmussen, US Department of Agriculture

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EauClaire Leader Telegram Extract
special publication,Our Story "Chippewa Valley and Beyond", published in 1976
Used with permission.

Our Story, Volume II - Machines are changing farming practices (3)
Our Story, Volume II - Machines are changing farming practices (5)
This page created byZuzanna Fanning- American Local History Network - Wisconsin - Condado de Eau Claire
Page Last Updated - Thursday, Apr 27, 2000 3:29:28 AM CDT
All rights reserved.

Our Story, Volume II - Machines are changing farming practices (7)


How did new machines for farming change life? ›

Advances in machinery have expanded the scale, speed, and productivity of farm equipment, leading to more efficient cultivation of more land. Seed, irrigation, and fertilizers also have vastly improved, helping farmers increase yields.

What new techniques and machines were used to improve farming? ›

Farmers now use automated harvesters, drones, autonomous tractors, seeding, and weeding to transform how they cultivate their crops. The technology takes care of menial and recurring tasks, allowing them to focus on more critical functions.

How did machines impact agriculture? ›

The level of mechanization has a significant positive impact on the cost, output value, income and return rate of all types of crops. For every 1% increase in the level of mechanization, the yields of all crops, grain crops and cash crops increase by 1.2151, 1.5941 and 0.4351%, respectively.

What did new machines that made farming easier lead to? ›

No farm would be complete without a tractor or two. These machines helped farmers increase productivity, which led the way to larger farms. In the early 1900s, tractors were powered with steam engines. These large, heavy machines weighed up to 60,000 pounds.

How did the new farming machines like the McCormick Reaper and the cotton gin change farming in America? ›

The McCormick Reaper revolutionized agriculture, making it possible to harvest large areas of grain much faster than could have been done by men wielding scythes. Because farmers could harvest more, they could plant more.

How did machines change production? ›

By reducing labor costs, such machines not only reduced manufacturing costs but lowered prices manufacturers charged consumers. In short, machine production created a growing abundance of products at cheaper prices. Mechanization also had less desirable effects. For one, machines changed the way people worked.

What technology changed farming? ›

Industrial Automation

This technological advancement in agriculture has allowed farmers to increase yields of agricultural produce by increasing efficiency on farmlands.

What is the new agriculture technology in 2023? ›

Digital agriculture will be an important part of agtech trends in 2023. In digital agriculture, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used to optimize operational efficiency, crop production, and crop field monitoring.

What was the new tool that changed farming the most during the Middle Ages? ›

The most important technical innovation for agriculture in the Middle Ages was the widespread adoption around 1000 of the mouldboard plow and its close relative, the heavy plow. These two plows enabled medieval farmers to exploit the fertile but heavy clay soils of northern Europe.

What is the most important farming machine? ›

Tractors are the king among different farm equipment. They are the main workhorse of any modern farm. They provide the power and traction necessary to mechanize agricultural tasks.

What invention made farming more efficient? ›

Hall of Famer Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper. This invention combined all the functions of earlier harvesting machines into one and allowed farmers to save time while more than doubling their crop size.

What were some innovations in farm machinery that led to improved results? ›

Four key innovations—the internal combustion engine, the Haber-Bosch process of producing nitrogen fertilizer from the air, the introduction of hybrid corn and the focus on crop genetics, and the development and use of farm chemicals—transformed agricultural production in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

How does machine learning help farmers? ›

Machine learning in agriculture allows farmers to use lavish amounts of data about climate change, crop and soil conditions, and other environmental variables to make informed decisions about plant and animal treatment.

When did farmers start using machines? ›

16th to 18th Century

Some of the earliest agricultural machines were invented in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Back then, machinery relied on the strength of humans and animals to function. Those who could afford horses or oxen used them to pull plows, but many farmers had to complete tasks by hand.

What effect has the development of machines had on the efficiency of farmers? ›

Makes More Space For Crops

Land usage is significantly improved with this process because machines can make more challenging land arable that might previously have lain fallow. Also, land can be used more efficiently to grow a larger variety of crops and more of them.

How did machines change the world? ›

The Industrial Revolution shifted societies from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy where products were no longer made solely by hand but by machines. This led to increased production and efficiency, lower prices, more goods, improved wages, and migration from rural areas to urban areas.

How are machines important in the production? ›

Why are machines absolutely essential for productivity to thrive? Many important production processes require speed and quality levels that human workers wielding manual tools cannot deliver. The economics of some production processes do not work out without automated machines. Other processes are too dangerous.

How has production changed over time? ›

As factories grew bigger and more money was spent on producing goods, so processes became more sophisticated. Mechanisation of production and the use of interchangeable parts meant manufacturing goods became easier, less time-consuming, and the entire process could be achieved more cost-effectively.

What is modern farming method? ›

Modern farming method: Modern farming method means the use of HYV seeds, tube wells for irrigation, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, machineries like tractors and threshers to increase the agricultural production.

What is modern technology farming? ›

302] Enframing means the gathering together of the setting-upon that sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the actual, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means the way of revealing that holds sway in the essence of modern technology and that is itself nothing technological.

What new inventions were created for farming? ›

Top 5 Recent Agricultural Inventions
  • Agricultural Drones. In recent years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have emerged as an innovative tool for precision agriculture. ...
  • Automated Irrigation Systems. ...
  • Genetically Modified Crops. ...
  • Precision Farming. ...
  • Animal Tracking Collars. ...
  • Takeaway.
Feb 15, 2023

What are two major improvements in farming during the Middle Ages? ›

The main inventions that improved farming in the Middle Ages were a new type of plow and an improved cultivation system. The improved plow was called a moldboard.

What were the old farming practices before machines? ›

A hundred years ago, farmers tilled their land with horse-drawn plows. They worked with hand tools like shovels, hoes and rakes. It was time-consuming, inefficient work. When the earliest tractors finally came onto the scene around 1919, they were small and slow, and relatively light by today's standards.

How did the three-field system improve farming? ›

In the three-field system the sequence of field use involved an autumn planting of grain (wheat, barley or rye) and a spring planting of peas, beans, oats or barley. This reduced the amount of fallow fields to one third. The legumes planted in spring improved the soil through the fixation of nitrogen.

How did machines change in the Industrial Revolution? ›

Machinery during the Industrial Revolution such as the spinning wheel to produce textiles, the water wheel used to power machinery and the steam engine were invented. These inventions aided in speeding up the production of manufactured items.

How did new machinery affect the Industrial Revolution? ›

Factories and the machines that they housed began to produce items faster and cheaper than could be made by hand. As the supply of various items rose, their cost to the consumer declined (see supply and demand).

How did new machines affect the Industrial Revolution? ›

The steam engine turned the wheels of mechanized factory production. Its emergence freed manufacturers from the need to locate their factories on or near sources of water power. Large enterprises began to concentrate in rapidly growing industrial cities.

What did the new machines do in the Industrial Revolution? ›

Important inventions of the Industrial Revolution included the steam engine, used to power steam locomotives, steamboats, steamships, and machines in factories; electric generators and electric motors; the incandescent lamp (light bulb); the telegraph and telephone; and the internal-combustion engine and automobile, ...

What are 3 machines from the Industrial Revolution? ›

There were many important inventions and machines invented during the Industrial Revolution. The spinning jenny, steam engine, steamboat, locomotive and electric engine all had a huge impact on society.

How did the use of factory machines change life in America? ›

That changed when people invented machines to make products much faster and easier than they could be made by hand. People working at those machines made money, and bought items like food and clothing instead of making them by hand. Before the Industrial Revolution, most Americans lived on farms.

What is for the machine movement after Industrial Revolution? ›

So, if you look at the styles of industrial revolution... for the machine movement after industrial revolution. So, genesis of high modernism came from the industrial revolution for the machine movement; because in the late modern if we look at, all the many of the movements started embracing the machine aesthetic.

How did the agricultural revolution lead to the Industrial Revolution? ›

During the Second Agricultural Revolution, humans industrialized farming to produce greater crop yields with fewer workers. This allowed larger cities to form and paved the way for the First Industrial Revolution.

What machines were made in the second industrial revolution? ›

Major Technological Advances of the Second Industrial Revolution. 1870s. Automatic signals, air brakes, and knuckle couplers on the railroads; the Bessemer and then the open-hearth process in the steel mills; the telephone, electric light, and typewriter.

What were three new inventions during the Industrial Revolution and what was their impact? ›

Three of the most influential of these inventions were the coke fueled furnace, steam engine, and spinning jenny; all of which increased production capabilities large amounts in many parts of Europe.

Did the Industrial Revolution replace humans with machines? ›

The industrial revolution led to changes in the labor market with machines replacing human labor. The first industrial revolution replaced manual work with the invention of a steam engine and the second industrial revolution enabled mass production using electric energy [2].


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