Machines And Science Help Farmers

Despite the great gains in industry, agriculture remained the nation's basic occupation. The revolution in agriculture - paralleling that in manufacturing after the war - involved a shift from hand labor to machine farming, and from subsistence to commercial agriculture. Between 1860 and 1910, the number of farms in the United States tripled, increasing from 2 million to 6 million while the area farmed more than doubled from 160 million to 352 million hectares.

Between 1860 and 1890, the production of such basic commodities as wheat, corn, and cotton outstripped all previous figures in the United States. In the same period, the nation's population more than doubled, with largest growth in the cities. But the American farmer grew enough grain and cotton, raised enough beef and pork, and clipped enough wool not only to supply American workers and their families but also to create ever-increasing surpluses.

Several factors accounted for this extraordinary achievement. One was the expansion into the west. Another was the application of machinery to farming. The farmer of 1800, using a hand sickle, could hope to cut a fifth of a hectare of wheat a day. With the cradle, 30 years later, he might cut eight-tenths of a hectare a day. In 1840, Cyrus McCormick performed a miracle by cutting from two to two-and-a-ha1f hectares a day with the curious machine he had been developing for nearly 10 years. Foreseeing the demand, he headed west to the young prairie town of Chicago, where he set up a reaper factory and by 1860 sold a quarter of a million reapers.

Other farm machines were developed in rapid succession: the automatic wire binder, the threshing machine, the reaper-thresher or combine. Mechanical planters, cutters, huskers, and shellers appeared, as did cream separators, manure spreaders, potato planters, hay driers, poultry incubators, and a hundred other inventions.

Scarcely less important than machinery in the agricultural revolution was science. In 1862, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act allotted public land to each state for the establishment of agricultural and industrial colleges. These were to serve both as educational institutions and as centers for research in scientific farining. Congress subsequently appropriated funds for the creation of agricultural experiment stations throughout the country and also granted funds directly to the Department of Agriculture for research purposes. By the beginning of the new century, scientists throughout the land were at work on a wide variety of agricultural projects.

One of these scientists, Mark Carleton, traveled for the Department of Agriculture to Russia. There he found and exported to his homeland the rust-and-drought-resistant winter wheat that now accounts for more than half the United States wheat crop. Another scientist, Marion Dorset, conquered the dread hog cholera, while still another, George Mohler, helped conquer hoof-and-mouth disease. From North Africa, one researcher brought back Kaffir corn; from Turkestan, another imported the yellow-flowering alfalfa.
Luther Burbank, in California, produced scores of new fruits and vegetables; in Wisconsin, Stephen Babcock devised a test for determining the butter-fat content of milk; at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the great black scientist George Washington Carver found hundreds of new uses for the peanut, sweet potato, and soybean.