Leave Farming History in Books Where It Belongs

Photo taken by Lorelei Hoffarth at Tractor and engine club in Picture Butte, Alberta

The further you get away from an event, the more people romanticize about how great it was. This happens with vacations, minor hockey careers, and fishing trips all the time. Unfortunately, farming hasn’t escaped these delusional romantic thoughts.

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.
– Napoleon Bonaparte –

We see in mass media the push from some consumers for food to be produced with methods used by farmers in the past. Phrases such as small-scale, slow food, and sustainable farming resonate with part of the population.

Small-scale agriculture is an alternative to factory farming or more broadly, intensive agriculture or unsustainable farming methods that are prevalent in primarily first world countries. It is sometimes identified with sustainable agriculture Environmental Health Perspectives has noted that “Sustainable agriculture is not merely a package of prescribed methods. More important, it is a change in mind set whereby agriculture acknowledges its dependence on a finite natural resource base–including the finite quality of fossil fuel energy that is now a critical component of conventional farming systems.” – Via Wikipedia

All of this could make some sense to anyone in today’s society as they sip their $5 latte, but when you actually experience it in the flesh, the “old days” farming methods have a dramatic impact on your opinion.

Let’s compare harvesting wheat today versus pioneer times. Today a single combine crew involves a combine operator and truck driver. The threshing crew that I watched at the Picture Butte Tractor Club had two stookers, two men on the drive tractor, two people loading the stooks into the machine, one guy on top of the machine, and two truck drivers. That is two people versus nine. In today’s, economics that is at least $40 per hour versus $180. This is only the labour cost —we haven’t even taken into consideration the total cost per bushel of output.

Consider how this relates to an increase in food cost.

Some of the same people that yearn for food to be produced in a manner that replicates the days of old are also very concerned about the working conditions of workers. Let me tell you that working on a pioneer threshing crew is not easy or desirable.

Story continues below…

The past is not always as we remember it. The past can be misleading. Let’s leave the days of cab-less tractors (and sprayers!), threshing crews, and the dust bowls of pioneer days in the past where they belong. If you ask the farmers that actually experienced these moments in time, they would never wish them back.

Just because we celebrate threshing bees and pioneer life, doesn’t mean society would be better off if it returned for real.

Sometimes the past needs to be left where it belongs — in books and memories. Farmers and consumers will be better off if we do.

Wake up with RealAgriculture

Subscribe to our daily newsletters to keep you up-to-date with our latest coverage every morning.

Wake up with RealAgriculture