Technological Advances of American Agricultureby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Trace the technological advances of American agriculture.
The Green Revolution has allowed the US to mass produce crops and export great amounts to other nations.
Important farming inventions were developed during the late 1700s and early 1800s. These included Eli Whitney's cotton gin, Charles Newbold's cast-iron plow, and Jethro Wood's interchangeable plow parts. Agricultural tools underwent a substantial improvement when John Deere invented the steel plow and Cyrus McCormick developed the reaper.
If someone said that most people in United States are farmers and farm with only the assistance of some basic tools and maybe a few work animals, that person would be considered dreadfully incorrect. However, this situation was the case when the United States first became a country. How then did farming in the United States transform from "low-tech" to what it is today? To understand one must learn how agriculture technology developed step-by-stepover the years.
Back in the mid to late 1700s, most people in the United States plowed with wooden plows and sowed by hand. Depending on what they were growing, the people would use either a sickle or a hoe to harvest the crops. The fortunate people had some mules, oxen, or horses to help with the labor. As one can see, it definitely took much time and much effort to produce an adequate amount of crops. Due to the tools of the time, wheat became the cash crop of the northern US while tobacco became the cash crop for the southern US. However, this way of life changed when new farming innovations came into being.
Many important farming inventions were developed during the late 1700s and early 1800s. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Before the advent of the cotton gin, the seeds and hulls had to be handpicked out of the cotton. This tedious work made the production of cotton unprofitable without intensive slave labor. However, the cotton gin greatly sped up the process of separating the hulls and seeds from the cotton, and by 1820 cotton had passed tobacco as the cash crop of the south. Eventually, the south's economy became dependant upon the export of cotton. In 1797, Charles Newbold developed a cast-iron plow, a more durable plow than the wooden one. Jethro Wood made the cast-iron plow cheaper to repair by developing the plow with interchangeable parts in 1819. In 1837, John Deere invented the steel plow which was more durable and cultivated better than previous plows. With these three plow developments, people were able to till more land in less time. In 1834, Cyrus McCormick developed the reaper. This new reaper cut down on the time needed to harvest certain crops. These inventions greatly advanced agriculture technology. 1
The mid to late 1800s brought additional new farming innovations. With inventions such as the two-horse straddle-row cultivator and the gang plow, farmers were able to more easily shift from human-powered to animal-powered farming. This shift allowed one farmer to increase production which spured the demographic shift toward urbanization. Less people were needed to do the farming and thus many people turned to the factories for work. Innovations of irrigation and deep well drilling allowed people to farm in places that were once too dry to farm. The development of barbed-wire allowed people to build fences even in areas that did not have enough trees for building conventional fences. This invention impeded large herds of livestock that used to have free range, and formerly endangered agricultural production. Dairy farming became more profitable with the invention of cream separators. Many innovations were developed in the mid to late 1800s that would be greatly enhanced in the 1900s. For example, in 1849, chemicals were first used on plants. This eventually led to the mass use of fertilizers and pesticides in order to obtain higher yields. Also, hybridized corn was developed in 1881. This development would lead to more hybridized plants in the future. Also, the idea of the tractor was first conceived in the late 1800s. As one can see, many important inventions and forerunners of great developments came about during the mid to late 1800s.
With the 1900s came many agricultural inventions that make farming the way it is today. In the early 1900s, George Washington Carver discovered many uses for plants such as the peanut, potato, and soybean. He used his discoveries to encourage the south to rotate in these crops instead of depleting the soil of nutrients by growing only cotton. Improvements to the tractor and inventions such as the mechanized combine and the cotton stripper caused many farmers to convert from animal-powered farming to mechanized farming. In fact, by 1954, the number of tractors exceeded the number of work mules and horses. Each decade the mechanized equipment grew larger and better, cutting down the work time. Farms too grew larger as conglamates swallowed up smaller parcels of those traditional farmers who could no longer successfully complete in the high tech world of agriculture.
From the breakthrough work of Gregor Mendel,
the 19th century botanist-monk in Austria, discoveries in genetics have allowed
scientists to develop high-yielding varieties (HYVs). The HYV of a crop can
produce much more than the traditional crop if it has great amounts fertilizer
and pesticide. The advent of HYVs sparked the Green Revolution that produces
great amounts of crops in order to keep up with the expanding earth population.
The Green Revolution allows the US to export excessive crop yields to other
nations. Additionally, the US shares it knowledge of genetically modified HYV
crops to other nations which has allowed India, China, and even parts of Africa
to support such enormously dense populations. Israel too is a leader in dry
farming agriculture as it has made the desert bloom through water conservation,
reclaimation, and even desalination. With these new developments, farmers can
farm more types of land and have more production per acre than ever before.
The advances in agricultural technology have greatly changed the way of life for Americans. Back in the late 1700s, over half the US population were involved in farming with many produced enough crops to feed their family. Nowadays, less than one percent of Americans are farmers with the average farmer producing enough crops to feed over one hundred people. Without the agricultural advances, the way of life in America would not be too much different from the way it was in the late 1700s. 3
up1Bellis, Mary. "Agriculture and Farm Innovations"
http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm.htm (accessed January 4, 2008).
up2Wikipedia contributors, "Green Revolution," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Green_Revolution&oldid=182049675 (accessed January 5, 2008).up3"A History of American Agriculture: Farm Machinery & Technology"
http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/farm_tech.htm (accessed January 4, 2008).
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