A Day in the Life

Activity 3

Farming Today and Tomorrow

exploring the prairie module icon

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 husks
Today 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.

Woman in chicken yard

In the early 20th century, farms were more diverse than today. Most farmers raised lots of different 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 disk
Being 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 Henry’s

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

Photos used by permission from the USDA Online Photography Center.

Today's Farmer - Fun Farm Facts

Agriculture is more than cows and crops. It is a web of product, producer, distributor and consumer and how they depend on each other for survival

Being a successful farmer today requires knowledge of advanced technology, educational preparation and business skills.

Copy and paste the Farm Facts to a word processing document.

Categorize the facts according to the following themes:EducationFarm SizeFarm ProductsAg BusinessComputers on the FarmThe Hard Work of Farming

Share your list with your teacher when completed.

Farm Facts

  1. The College of Agriculture at Iowa State University provides education courses for farming. Common programs of study include agronomy, dairy science, agricultural economics and business, agricultural and biological engineering horticulture, crop and fruit science, and animal science.
  2. Because of the cost of machinery, fertilizers, feed and seed, today's farmers make many business decisions.
  3. Farmers of livestock work throughout the year. Animals must be fed and watered daily. Dairy cows must be milked two or three times a day.
  4. The number of Iowa farmers is expected to continue to decline because farms are growing larger and larger in number of acres and many farmers are retiring.
  5. Farmers do a lot of different tasks ranging from caring for livestock to operating machinery and maintaining equipment.
  6. Farmers may learn about agriculture through a training program at a college or university.
  7. Some small farms can be successful because of new markets for specialized farm products such as sod, ornamental plants, Christmas trees, flowers, bulbs, shrubbery, and fruits and vegetables grown in greenhouses.
  8. In Iowa, most farmers raise corn, soybeans and hogs. However, some Iowa farmers raise many other kinds of farm products including llamas, goats, emus, turkeys, chickens, sheep and horses to name just a few.
  9. Growing up on a family farm and participating in groups like 4-H or FFA are important educational experiences for those interested in farming as a career.
  10. Operating a farm is expensive. Farmers must budget for the cost of land and machinery as well as livestock, feed, seed, and fuel for machinery.
  11. Farm work can be hazardous. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injury and workers must be constantly alert on the job.
  12. Weather, disease, fluctuations in prices of farm products and federal farm programs affect how much grain farmers can grow.
  13. Modern farming is very financially complex. Farmers compete for the best market for their crops and livestock.
  14. Some farmers sell their products at farmer's markets in towns and cities.
  15. Some farmers own their land while others rent land.
  16. Email, online journals and e-newsletters from agricultural organizations help farmers stay up-to-date on the latest scientific information.
  17. Operators of large farms have employees who help with the farm work.

    Fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, honey, baked and canned goods are found at the Farmer's Market.
  18. Horticultural specialty farmers oversee the production of ornamental plants, nursery products-such as flowers, bulbs, shrubbery, and sod-and fruits and vegetables grown in greenhouses.
  19. Iowa farmers try to learn as much about farming as possible. The Internet allows quick access to the latest information about farming and the markets.
  20. As farming practices and machinery becomes more complicated, farmers spend more time in offices and at computers, where they electronically manage many aspects of their businesses.
  21. Farmers on crop farms usually work from sunrise to sunset during the planting and harvesting seasons. During the rest of the year they plan next season's crops, market their products and repair machinery.
  22. Because operating a farm today is complicated, many farmers use computers to keep financial and inventory records.
  23. Work hours are frequently long and days off are rare during the planting, growing, and harvesting seasons.
  24. Some farmers inherit their land. However, purchasing a farm or additional land requires a lot of money.
  25. Some farmers use the Internet to get the latest prices of farm products.
  26. Livestock farmers and dairy farmers attend to the health of their animals. This may even include assisting with birthing. To go on vacation, these farmers must hire an assistant or arrange for a temporary substitute.
  27. An increasing number of small-scale farmers are successful because of personalized direct contact with customers.
  28. Some farmers attend educational conferences where they learn about new scientific innovations, government programs and the latest machinery.
  29. Crop farmers are responsible for planning, tilling, planting, fertilizing, cultivating, spraying, and harvesting. After the harvest, they make sure the crops are properly packaged, stored, or marketed.
  30. Modern farming requires increasingly complex scientific, business, and financial decisions. Therefore, even people who were raised on farms must acquire the appropriate education.
  31. Many farmers are finding opportunities in organic food production as more consumers demand sustainable farming methods. These techniques involve raising food with a minimum of chemicals.
  32. Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers must feed and care for the animals while keeping farm buildings clean and in good condition.
  33. Some farmers earn additional income by working a second job off the farm.
  34. Some small-scale farmers, such as some dairy farmers, belong to collectively owned marketing cooperatives that process and sell milk products.
  35. To be successful, today's farmers need both formal education and work experience.
  36. American farmers produce enough food to meet the needs of our whole country with extra grain and meat to export to other countries.
Photographer: Harlen Persinger

Interview a Farmer In Your Community

  1. Choose a partner or form a small group.
  2. Brainstorm a list of interview questions related to the work of a farmer.
    Interview a farmer!
  3. Type your questions and print copies for each person in your group.
  4. Assign questions to each person in the group.
  5. Practice reading your questions into a tape recorder. Make sure you know how to use the recorder.
  6. Set up an interview date.
  7. Conduct the interview.
  8. Write a summary of your interview using the tape recording.
  9. Your summary should include quotes from the person interviewed as well as summaries of what the person said. Do not transcribe the tape word for word.
  10. Your interview summary should cover the important points of your conversation.
  11. Share the results of your interview with your classmates.
  12. Complete a T chart to compare early farm life with farm life today.
camp silos

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