The Future of Farm Work in America
The world is changing and so is our agriculture. The rise of smart farming and people-less food production has many in the agriculture industry scratching their heads. But what does the future of farm work in America really look like?
Farming in America Today
For farming families in the US, working life today bears little similarity to that of generations before. As recently as the early 20th century, farming was labor intensive and took place almost exclusively on small farms in rural areas. Then, the majority of the population lived in areas populated by farmland, not cities. In 1935, there were around 6.8 million farms in the US but beginning around the 1940s, the number of farms decreased sharply.
Ranch Work, Farm Boots and Workwear
If you are thinking of getting into the farming industry and working on ranches you must have the right working clothes which including different pairs of work boots such as rubber and most likely a leather pair too for when it isn’t so wet and muddy. Workers on ranches and farms also stay safe and comfortable by wearing practical clothing such as overalls, denim jeans which are tough and durable to withstand tough working conditions through fields mud and in crops.
By the time the 21st century rolled around, types of farming had evolved into big business with huge specialized operations dominating rural areas. Today, there are around 2.05 million farms in operation. These remaining farms cover a much greater acreage however, they are very specialized. In 2017, the USDA ERS calculated total crop cash receipts in the US of a staggering $195.4 billion. Almost half of this total was made up of receipts from the growth of corn and soybeans. Even though they’re larger, these specialized farms employ fewer farm hands as work is increasingly streamlined by technology.
What is Smart Farming?
Certain American farms now operate in a similar way to factories. Instead of being at the mercy of an unstable environment and inconsistent farming, farms are now maintained using technology. Growing crops like nuts, walnuts, and grapes require a great deal of care and a surprising amount of water. In order to keep the crops growing as they should, some farmers are embracing moisture sensors, planted in their nuts groves that send data to the farm’s irrigation system that tells it when to water. These high-tech systems are not dissimilar to standard hydroponics, except for the data element. And these systems save water too.
Smart farming also increasingly involves genetic manipulation. The term GM crops comes with a certain measure of stigma but most of the plant-based food we eat has been in some way modified. A better understanding of how plant DNA works has led scientists to change crops’ features using genome editing. How far we will take this science remains to be seen.
Will Farm Hand Work Become Obsolete?
So what does smart farming mean for those who make their living doing farm hand work? According to academics, the farming of the future could go two ways.
Either the agriculture industry embraces what has become known as the “fourth industrial revolution”, or the fusion of technology and existing agricultural practices. Smart farming will truly be the farming of the future as big business invests heavily in biotechnology and precision farming that will be carried out by robots. Water waste and pesticide-use will fall but we may have to rely on synthetic foods to stay healthy. This model doesn’t need any farm workers to prepare the soil, plant seeds, pull weed or harvest crops. It will all be done by super-advanced machines.
Or the world might adopt a less drastic approach. If you want to live and work on a farm anytime past the next decade, the answer might be agroecology. Agroecology covers the many ways we can develop sustainable agroecosystems. Central to the agroecological approach is farming practices that benefit plants, animals and their environments. Natural cycles are key as is the democratization of food as a whole.
The future of agriculture and the farm work that sustains it is unclear but its an exciting subject that promises big changes to come.