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Farming Today and Tomorrow  A Day In the Life For Students


Farming Then and Now

Abraham Lincoln created the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1862. At that time about 90 out of every 100 Americans were farmers. Today, that number has shrunk to just 2 out of every 100 Americans.

Still the motto of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the same today as it was nearly 150 years ago. Across the bottom of the official USDA seal, are the words

"Agriculture is the foundation of manufacture and commerce."

Harvesting corn husksToday it doesn't take as many people to work on farms as it once did. In the 1830s, 40s and 50s when pioneers first settled Iowa's rich prairie lands, most farms were just 80 acres. That was as much land as most pioneer farmers could take care of. By 1900 many Iowa farms were larger than 80 acres, and most farming was done with simple machines and horses.

In the early 20th century, farms were more diverse than today. Most farmers raised lots of Woman in chicken yarddifferent crops and cared for many varied animals. Farmers planted corn, oats, wheat and barley, and raised cattle and hogs. Women planted large gardens of potatoes, carrots, lettuce, pumpkins, beans and radishes. They also cared for chickens and sold eggs.

Throughout the 20th century, as machinery developed, farms began to grow bigger. As they got bigger, they also tended to become less diverse. Many Iowa farmers raised just corn and soybeans. Others raised hogs or cattle with some field crops.

As farms grew larger, many farmers moved off the farms their grandparents once occupied. Today, the Iowa countryside is dotted with abandoned farm buildings that once held crops and provided shelter for animals. Where farmhouses once stood, the land is now cultivated for crops.

Today's Farmer

Tractor with diskBeing a successful farmer today requires knowledge of advanced technology, educational preparation and business skills. Many farmers learn about the business and practice of agriculture through a training program at a college or university.

Meet Two Farmers and Learn about Life on the Farm

Farm Life - Meet the Condons

Farm Life - Meet the Pendletons

Email questions and find out more about farm life.

View the following 4-H Virtual Farm video presentations.

Meet a Cattle Farmer
Meet Alan Graybeal, cattle producer, and learn what he does on his cow/calf farm to produce the kind of cattle that provide steaks and hamburger for you to eat.

Meet a Dairy Farmer
Visit Donna Kerr's dairy farm as she describes a typical day.

Meet a Poultry Farmer
Neal Martin, poultry producer, shows how his operation produces baby chicks that become egg type laying chickens.

Meet a Horse Farmer
Visit Mark Dean's horse farm and watch videos describing a typical day.

Find out about Fish Farming
Tour an aquaculture farm with Albert Reid, research specialist.

Iowa Farmer Today's Corn Cam

A Day in the Life of a Dairy Farmer

Your favorite ice cream in the grocery store freezer begins with milk from a dairy farm. A typical day in the life of a dairy farmer involves a lot of hard work. The day usually starts early and ends late. Dairy farmers work both indoors and outdoors.

  • What kinds of farms are found in your community?
  • What crops are grown?
  • What animals are raised on farms in your area?
Holstein cattle

A Day in the Life of a Farmer Continued…

Photos used by permission from the USDA Online Photography Center.


  For Students:
Introduction Quick Facts A Day in the Life
Farm Tech Trek Scavenger Hunt Newsroom
Mystery Photo Ag Resource Library
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