Exhibit shows how farming evolved

Next time the Ashtabula County Antique Engine Club has an open house or activity where its agricultural museums are open, take advantage of the opportunity to go up to its engine grounds in Wayne Township. Take some time to really think about what you are seeing.

In one of the buildings, there is a progression of farm equipment from the early days of farming to today’s more modern equipment. The change is remarkable. Back in the early 1800s, grain and hay were cut by hand with a scythe. This was a tool with a long handle, some straight and some curved, with a sharp curved blade on the end.

After cutting, the grain was bundled and hauled to the barn or shed and the grain threshed out by throwing it up into the wind. It was a long, slow, tedious process and took a lot of labor for a small yield of grain.

Then follow the equipment progression in the display along to the end where there is a more modern combine. This machine would do in an hour what it took days of hard labor to do by hand.

But there is more to the story than just the equipment. In the 1800s, it took 80 percent or more of our population to feed the rest of us. Today, it takes less than 2 percent to feed all the rest of us. That is a remarkable improvement in agricultural productivity.

Much credit goes to our Land Grant College System along with agricultural research and the Cooperative Extension Program. Research developed new and improved crop varieties and livestock programs. The Extension took that research out to the farmer. Generally, farmers were quick to adapt to and use the new technology.

Credit also goes to those innovative people who invented new tools that save huge amounts if labor. Invention of grain reapers, tractors, combines along with trucks and cars added to the ability of farmers to produce more with less labor.

With more being produced by one farmer, fewer were needed. That resulted in a large displacement of a labor force from agriculture to a factory job, work in a rapidly developing food processing and development system or in research and development.

As difficult as the displacement was from agriculture to other kinds of employment, advancements in our county would not have taken place without this extra labor force.

In the 1950s when I was involved as a county extension agent, unrest in agriculture was taking place. Farmers held meetings to consider various programs, most that were not practical. They had what they called holding actions, in which they did not send their milk, beef cattle or grain to market. None were successful but they did call attention to the plight of underpaid farmers.

In many ways, it is hard to comprehend how we went from needing 80 percent of our population to feed us to just 2 percent. No, it didn’t happen overnight but over a couple of centuries. But it was a major displacement of an agricultural labor force.

Overall, it was good for our county but not without growing pains along the way. We still have groups and programs that attempt to throw roadblocks in the way of modern agriculture. Those who still want to farm the way Grandpa did, the animal rights activists and others against some of our newest technology don’t like what has taken place. It has, however, resulted in a well-fed, progressive society.

Parker is an independent writer for Farm Bureau.

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