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September 16, 2012

Agriculture influenced by science

My grandfather was born in the family farmhouse near Cumberland Head in 1893. Agriculture in those days was diversified. The farm had milking cows, sheep, pigs and raised hay and small grains like oats and wheat.

Much of the crops and food produced were for the use of the farmer, the rest was sold to pay for items not available on the farm. The cows were milked by hand, fields plowed by horses, and hay cut with a scythe and piled loose in the haymow.

Things did not change much for the next 50 years. It wasn’t until the early 40s that electricity finally arrived at his farm. Shortly after that he got his first tractor.

Rural electrification and the availability of gasoline-powered machinery brought about a significant change in how farmers farmed. Since then, the pace of agricultural production has increased by leaps and bounds. While the “good ole days” were not always good, they did help to develop the qualities that most farmers still possess today; determination, independence, patience, practicality and the ability to plan.

What has changed for the better is the availability of knowledge and the technology with which they are now equipped. In the late 1800s, the Land Grant universities were established to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts and other practical professions. Later, in 1914, the Smith-Lever act formalized the formation of the Extension Service, a non-formal education program designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives.

During World War I, the Great Depression and World War II, the Extension Service helped farmers meet the increased production demands of the times, improved farm incomes and help rural America survive the years of economic depression and drought. The land grant college in New York, Cornell University, continues to address a wide range of human, plant and animal needs in both urban and rural areas.

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