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Agriculture industry continues to do more with less

June 10, 2013
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

When you hear the phrase “the boys of summer,” what comes to mind?

Is it the 1984 hit by Don Henley? Or do your thoughts turn to baseball like a friend of mine, to the Nationals or the Orioles? Or to the nonfiction work by Roger Kahn about the Brooklyn Dodgers?

For me, the boys of summer were the boys that got summer jobs on the farms around our county.

There was a time when high school youths would be employed on area farms to load and unload hay and straw, as well as other seasonal jobs.

My father tells stories of moving from farm to farm during thrashing. I remember tossing bales on wagon or truck beds and then hauling them to the barn to either throw them on the elevator or stack them when they came off. I also picked raspberries and mowed fence rows.

Suburban youth learned a work ethic from our country cousins. It was a simpler time.

But as I have related before, the tractor and other modern machinery didn’t replace the horse, they replaced neighbors. Now, I will be the first to admit it is a chick or egg thing. Did youth stop working on farms because they could make more or easier money at other jobs or did machinery replace them?

The boys of summer are only one of the casualties of farm mechanization and efficiency.

Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-agriculture, but for each advancement there are tradeoffs.

Name another industry that produces more with less like agriculture?

What other unintended costs has agriculture paid?

Because of this efficiency, food prices have remained artificially low, and farm profits have not kept pace with rising costs.

This has caused farmers to have to work more acres, milk more cows and spend more hours.

Because of this, farmers who once drove school buses between milkings or fire trucks when the alarm would ring don’t have time now.

They also sat on bank boards, school boards and church boards. I am not saying they have completely disappeared; it has just become more and more difficult.

I don’t have an answer. Nobody wants to see farms disappear, nor do they want to pay higher food prices. We have to keep farming profitable and not overly onerous from the regulation standpoint. That is a farm preservation program that will work.

Just so you know, there are still some farms that need youth to unload bales, and in case you haven’t seen the movie “42,” the Dodgers haven’t always been in Los Angeles.

Jeff Semler is an extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.

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