Yesterday I examined a brief and general history of farming in America. Today I want to take a brief look at some of the common practices in farming, both historically and in use today.
Now different parts of the country and world have very different farming methods. Farmers in Caribou, Maine are going to do things differently than farmers in Florida or Oklahoma or California. For illustrative purposes and because I am most familiar with the process, I will be looking at farming practices in Upstate New York. The Northeast and New York in particular the farm, forest and bird issues are acute.
In colonial times farming was largely done by hand. Farms were typically small, but people only grew to support themselves. Any extra was sold at market to help purchase other supplies. Much of the planting, harvesting, storage etc. Was done by hand, perhaps with the assistance of an Ox team or draft horse.
By the end of the 18th century, mechanical farming was taking hold. As a result farmers were able to clear and farm larger tracts of land. Still by and large, planting was done in the spring and harvesting in the fall and it was still back breaking work.
The 20th century is when farming methods changed rapidly. The advent of motorized vehicles (Tractors) revolutionized the way farming was done. Farmers could now farm and harvest huge tracts of land, with a lot less work than previous generations. They could also now start doing multiple harvests per year and the advent of Manure spreaders reduced the needed for crop rotation by fertilizing the fields. The advent of pesticides as well as the means to distribute them, reduced the number of insects and disease leading to increased production. While all of these factors lead to higher production and yields, they also left some devastating impacts on the environment.
Farming today I think is much more environmentally conscious than ever before, but many farmers have no choice but to choose economics over nature. As a result many farmers have practices that are not environmentally friendly. Here are some examples:
– 2 cuts of Hay per year
– chemical and fertilizer uses on exhausted fields to reduce the need for crop rotation
– Overgrazing by livestock
– poor waste removal systems from livestock farms which affect ground and other water ways.
– The use of non native cash crops
All of these methods save and make Farmers money, but they have a lot of downsides with them. Now, not all farmers do these. Hobby and Small farmers tend to do a much better job at managing their land, herds and crops. Professional farmers is where many of the challenges are, but where groups such as Audubon and other organizations have failed to make an effort.
Current farming practices today have given us the highest yields per acre in history, but at what cost? As it is the poor in our society can’t afford fresh and healthy food (a 3 liter bottle of Soda $.99, a gallon of Milk $3.25), but there are other costs that we can’t put a price on. We as a society can have a huge impact on how farming is done in the future, but their needs to be leadership from not only the government but from other organizations as well.
The next segment we will actually look at some of the bird species that have benefited from and in danger from farming. We will also examine more specific methods of farming, that we have introduced or only briefly discussed here. Certainly there is a wealth of information available for people out there who are interested in farming and farming practices. A good start would be your state Department of Agriculture, also many colleges have departments or programs dedicated to farming and can ben an invaluable sources of information. In New York State look up your county’s, Cornell Cooperative Extension, they will gladly answer any questions and send you a tremendous amount of information.