Waking up before the crack of dawn and resting their exhausted body onto a bed long after sundown is the underestimated life of an agricultural worker. During calving season, a rancher is waking at least every three hours in order to check on the heifers, the mother cows, and the newborns. During harvest seasons, farmers have a specific time zone to get all the crops harvested leaving them in the fields far after the sun has set and days away from their own family and friends. The agricultural fields require more than expected.
Farming has been alive since the beginning and has changed significantly with different opportunities and techniques. It has also changed over the past decades, issuing corrupt and nonfunctional ways of life, but leaving room for correction and a turn around.
To find the sources of error and strength, it begins in the past. Farming has changed greatly over the years. Early farmers didn’t use many tools to help them. They poked holes in the ground with sticks to plant seeds in, pulled weeds by hand, and harvested without the aId of machines. Men did most of the plowing and harvesting, while women did the weeding in between. Farming had a tendency to get people into debt, which caused a lot of arguments. During the 18th century, farming was gradually transformed by an agricultural revolution. Until 1701, seed was sown by hand and in that year a man by the name of Jethro Tull invented a seed drill, which sows seed in straight lines. He also invented a horse drawn hoe which hoes the land and destroys weed between rows of crops.
Furthermore, until the 18th century most livestock was slaughtered at the beginning of winter because farmers could not grow enough food to feed their animals through the winter months. This was a major problem because a farmers first defense is to feed his family, which would then leave his livestock to starve. Also in the 18th century, farmers like Robert Bakewell, a British agriculturalist now recognized as one of the most important figures in the British Agricultural Revolution, began scientific stock breeding, or selective breeding. Selective breeding is the process by which humans use animal and plant breeding to selectively develop particular phenotypic traits or characteristics by choosing which typically animal or plant males and females will sexually reproduce and have offspring together. Due to this new idea, farm animals grew much larger and gave more meat, wool, and milk.
After the 18th century, agriculture continued to change and mature, especially with the use of railroads and ships for trade. With these advancements, American farmers could now move their grain to ports and it could be shipped to Britain. Cheap American grain helped ordinary people in the towns, but it meant a depression in British farming. The British suffered from this because Americans were selling their produce for less, even through trade, causing Britains to buy American products rather than their locals. In the 19th century, two agriculturists, Justus von Liebig and John Lawes introduced new fertilizers. Farmers also began using clay pipes to drain their fields. This was a big year for inventing as John Deere invented a steel plow, and John Fowler invented a steam plow. This helped advance farming greatly because farmers were no longer working with their hands, but rather in machinery.
In the 20th century, farming became mechanized. “Over 150 years ago… [the Great Plains] underwent a near-complete conversion to plowed fields – low precipitation and regional soil characteristics prevented farmers from cropping more than 90 percent of land in the east and 25 percent in the west, an average of 50 percent overall” (Parton, Gutmann, and Ojima 739). This quote is saying that during this time, the land went under changes in style and types of farming. These changes included each farm owning tractors, combines, harvesters, and machines to milk cattle. Around the 20th century, more farmers decided to use crop rotation and took it very seriously. This is the process of moving crops to a different field after a period of time in order to keep the natural organic soil healthy. In the earlier 20th century, tractors gradually replaced horses and milking machines became common from the 1940s to the 1960s.
By the 1950s, combine harvesters became common. These are machines that cut, thresh, and clean a grain crop in one operation. Metro countries, those with populations of 50,000 or more, also began to develop and bring in more business than usual. Although, due to overuse and improper ways of farming, “metro countries lost 25 percent of their total farmland from 1959 to 1997, with more than 90 percent of this farmland loss coming from rangeland” (Parton, Gutmann, and Ojima 739). Later on, much of the land was able to be refurbished and used for farming once again. Due to this land being fixed and helped, it proves that corrupt ideals of today could be fixed for the better.
In the past, farming may not have always been corrupt, but new ideas and technology have created problems for farmers today. One corrupt idea that’s brought to attention is taxes. In order to understand taxes and how they affect farmers, an understanding of the various taxes and how they are assessed is useful. Real property taxes are levied, or imposed, by local governments on land and all improvements attached to the land. Personal property taxes are levied on capital assets not attached to the land, such as machinery, livestock, and vehicles.
Farmers want to know if they are being “fairly” treated in their state compared to farmers in neighboring states. Farm taxes are divided into two categories. Those levied on farm inputs, and those based on income. Input taxes include taxes on real and personal property, sales and excise, and other specialty taxes. While income taxes include federal income and self-employment taxes as well as state income taxes.
The government gets large amounts of money from farms alone. Gregory M. Perry and Clair J. Nixon received information from the government themselves and described this by stating, “by 1980, sales and excise taxes were the largest single source of tax revenue for state and local governments” (Qtd by U.S. Department of Commerce 1995b).
According to Gregory M. Perry and Clair J. Nixon, “sales taxes are levied on a variety of items used in farming, including building materials, equipment, repair parts, and tools” (Perry and Nixon 42). There was a 4.6 percent growth of total gross farm revenue in 1994. Statistics show that “real property taxes on land, the major capital input in agriculture, represent the largest category of taxes levied on farm operations, generating just over $6 billion in tax revenues in 1994” (Mcdonald 122). However, sales taxes were also significant, generating $1 billion to $1.3 billion in tax revenue (the income that is gained by governments through taxation). In addition, payroll taxes cost farmers almost $1 billion. In 1994, a total of 43.54 percent of governmental taxes comes from property tax of farmers.
Corrupt and over expensive taxes play a large role in making farming difficult, although, yielding can also have an affect. Crop yields are an essential aspect of every farmer’s day, impacting how profitable their farmland can be. Crop yielding is the key to maintaining the long term sustainability of their farm. Farmers want to ensure that they are maximizing their space and the land they have worked to cultivate.
Though not all problematic ideals are chosen, the amount of work and hours that farmers put in is over the top, especially during seasons like harvest, calving, and planting. A farmer averages 44.6 hours worked per week, yet the average pay is $40,043 annually or $12.65 per hour. The average American makes $81,400 per year or $24.17 per hour, working around 40 hours a week. This leaves farmers with nearly half of the pay.
As of 1966, federal law requires employers on large farms to pay minimum wage if a worker doesn’t earn it based on the piece rate. Unfortunately, there are loopholes to this system. For example, about one-third of the nation’s farm workers are on small farms, and these are not subject to federal law surrounding minimum wage. If a farm worker is hired through crew leaders or farm labor contractors, which approximately one half of all farm workers are, then their growers can avoid state and federal-level employment laws, including minimum wage. Another common issue amongst farm workers is wage theft, in which a portion of a worker’s wage is stolen by their employer or supervisor.
Farm worker unemployment rates are double those of all wage and salary workers according to the 2008 NAWS, as agricultural work by nature provides virtually no job security (“Agricultural Safety”). Job Security is an assurance that an individual will keep his or her job without the risk of becoming unemployed. They will have continuity in employment and it may be from the terms of a contract of employment, collective bargaining agreement, or labor legislation that prevents arbitrary termination.
In addition to low wages and no job security, farm workers lack benefits that labor laws guarantee to workers in other industries. For instance, farm workers do not receive overtime pay, nor do they get sick days, personal days, or maternity leaves. History has been grim for farm workers’ wages. Rather than increasing over time, farm worker wages have actually declined by more than 20 percent in the past 20 years after accounting for inflation (“Labor Laws”).
Contradictorily, there is some hope for improvement. Despite living in poverty and lacking enforcement of the laws that do exist, farm workers are organizing to improve these conditions. Some different organizations are The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), The United Farm Workers, AgJOBS, and Center for Rural Affairs (“Center for Rural Affairs”).
In order for the organizations to have something to go against, there must be some laws and rules. One of which is The National Labor Relations Act. This was passed in 1935. It forbids employers from firing a worker for joining, organizing, or supporting a labor union. It also establishes a structure for unions and employers to engage in collective bargaining. This excludes farm workers though, leaving a loophole (Thompson 271). Another act or law is The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938. This guarantees a minimum wage for each hour worked and requires overtime pay to most employees. Those working more than 40 hours in a week must be paid one and a half time their regular rate of pay for each hour exceeding 40. FLSA fully excluded farm workers until 1966, and to this day it continues to exclude them in significant ways; farm workers have no right to overtime pay, workers on small farms are not entitled to receive minimum wage, and children as young as twelve are legally allowed to work in the fields (Thompson 272). This are two common laws that are over passed and easily create loopholes and problems within the farming economy.
As for how farming would even relate to myself or bring me any interest whatsoever, much of my family owns farms. My brother-in-law, grandfather Kring, grandfather Popple, and uncle Jon all have farms of their own that I’ve been able to help on and hear about all my life. My family is very proud of their farms and would do anything to keep them afloat. They feel so strong about this because to them, it’s a lifestyle.
As for my grandfather Kring, he has had this farm since his great grandfather was working on it. This farm belongs in the family and plans to stay. He never fails to tell a farming story each and every time grandchildren come to visit him. One story he shares over and over again is when he stayed up for 74 hours straight because two of his heifers, mother calves whom had never gave birth before, were having twins. He had to stay up making sure each and every one of his cattle were strong and healthy. He loves to share his admiration for the land and livestock he has put some much work into.
His pride of all the hard work is the feeling that most farmers get on their own farms. Although some things have changed since he was last in the fields, but his love for the life has never differed. He is not the only one proud of those fields and animals you see along the highways or in the middle of nowhere. Like stated before, agriculture isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.
Farmers provide an indispensable service, yet their jobs are some of the most dangerous and least adequately compensated in the country. The past shows the ways how things have changed, and where corruptions have entered the field. Taxes and yielding are some ways that farming has taken a turn for the worst, leaving some ideas unjust or unfair. Some farming ate constantly getting looked over or getting shortened from loopholes found in the systems. Although there is still much room for improvement, organizations and companies are trying to fix what has been broken. Altogether, farming has changed over the past decades, leaving corrupt and nonfunctional ways of life, but leaving room for correction and a turn around.
“Agricultural Safety.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 June 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.
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Parton, William J., et al. “Long-Term Trends in Population, Farm Income, and
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