Change is the only constant in a perpetually evolving world.  Just as life and traditions change, so do farming practices. In today’s day in age, farmers have easy access to tractors and large machinery, which make the profession of farming much easier. Agriculturists also have the technology of fertilizers, that ensure the crops receive necessary nutrients. Advancements in chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides are used to rid fields of unwanted weeds and pests. However, farming has not always been this precise of a science. It’s interesting to look back and see how far farmers have come in the past century.

Early in the 20th-century farmers used a system of planting called hill dropping of checked corn. This system required a wire to be strung from one end of a field to the other, and it would be strung through a planter powered by a team of horses. This wire would release a small pile of corn, hence the term ‘hill’, in 42-inch rows. But why 42 inches? Because that’s the average width of a horse! These checked rows allowed for cultivators to be easily pulled through the field. Since there were no herbicides to kill weeds, farmers relied solely upon cultivators to uproot the nuisances. More in-depth information on this practice can be found here!

Fast forward to about 25 years ago, when farming seems to have vastly improved from the seemingly primitive ways of the early 1900’s. Instead of farming in 42-inch rows, corn grew within 30-inch rows. This allowed for more plants to grow in each field, which lead to an increase in yields. By this point in time, farmers were using tractors to pull their planters, which greatly increased the efficiency of their time and efforts.  However, these aren’t the only technological benefits! In the 1990’s farmers started utilizing satellite technology to increase their accuracy, which made the farming profession a very meticulous one. Additionally, the number of farmers trying conservation tillage methods continued to rise. This simply means that producers leave more plant residue in the field, with intentions to prevent erosion. This extra plant material will add organic matter to the soil, which will also improve the land’s productivity. On top of all these advancements, in 1997 the first insect and weed resistant crops become commercially available. If you’re particularly interested in learning more about how farming improved in the 90’s, I suggest you check out this link!

Farming in the early 2000’s… was it really that much different from farming today? To start off with, one of the most important pieces of legislation regarding farming practices was passed. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also referred to as the Farm Bill, created rules and regulations for anything from conservation practices, to organic agriculture, to crop insurance. This bill promoted innovative solutions to resource challenges, established a new disaster assistance program, expanded the opportunities for farmers’ markets, and much more!  Further information about the full impacts of the 2008 Farm Bill can be found here. Without these past accomplishments, the agriculture industry would certainly not be the same as it is today.

Rosie Roberts
Iowa State University

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