Science Seeks the Farmer

USDA Yearbook of Agriculture 1920

By L.C. Everard – Chief Editor, Division of Publications – an article from the 1920 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, public property

Something is wanting to science until it has been humanized, said Emerson. That was long ago, before the development of the Department of Agriculture. Were he here today he would probably say something is wanting to agricultural science until it puts on its overalls and gets out between the plow handles. And the scientists of the department would agree with him; for though they may in their laboratories surround their work with a cloud of hard words and harder ideas like a smoke screen anround a battleship, they realize that their investigations and discoveries are made for the sake of mankind, and acquire their chief value when the veil of thechnicality is torn away. Cyclonic action means something to the farmer when translated into term of rain or snow or fair weather. And scientific study of the life history of Ascaris lumbricoides becomes a blessing to him when a way has been found to apply the knowledge so as to save his pigs.

Agricultural science begins really to function only when it reaches the farm. And in America it reaches every farm whose gate is not closed against it. The results of thousands of great scientific researches and of thousands of studies in the practical application of these results to farming can be had for the asking. Farmers’ Bulletins, easy to read and at the same time reliable and accurate, give the answer to all kinds of puzzling questions, not only about field and orchard, poultry and live stock, marketing of produce, and many another angle of the farm business, but about making the farm home a pleasanter place to live in and the children more robust and healthy and contented.

Many of the department specialists are not only scientists; they are also farmers. They know what the farmer is up against, and when a new method of doing a thing is found or an old method is improved they can tell him how to make it work. They are constantly seeking ways to fit new discoveries and developments into standard farming practice. And working alongside them, to put the information in the most convenient form, are the experts in writing, printing, pictures, and exhibits of the Division of Publications. A great fund of farm facts locked up in the files in Washington would not be of much help. They must be got into the field to produce results, and to get them there the facts are put up in various kinds of packages – bulletins, press stories, pictures, posters, models, and movies – whatever will most economically and at the same time most effectively carry the scientific studies of the department to the farmer and enable him to convert them into farm practice.

The department is constantly working to find out what the farmer’s everyday problems are and constantly seeking ways to reach him with the answer. It is not unusual now for him to find a home-demonstration agent in his kitchen or meet the county agent at his gate. These are salesmen of science and the wares they have to offer are the combined knowledge and experience of the army of scientists and practical agriculturists of the State colleges and the department. And their terms are easy, for service is what they sell, and all the farmer has to pay is the time he takes to learn what the service is. Through them the other methods of distributing farming facts are made more effective. Many ways are found of getting all kinds of helpful information to the farmer. When he goes to town he may find a movie scheduled in the schoolhouse, showing just how to dust his cotton, or dip his cattle, or build his poultry pens. If he attends a meeting at the town hall he may see a department poster telling of some important discovery in farm practice or warning him of some danger to his crops from insects or disease and telling how to meet it. At the State fair he may find under the big sign “Department of Agriculture Exhibit” samples and models of crops and devices he never saw before and may see actual demonstrations that will help him with his own farm work. Even when he reads his county paper or his farm journal the department is with him, for from its press service goes out to all the farm press of the country news of the latest doings in agricultural science and advancement. Agricultural science not only seeks the farmer but it finds him. And the farmer is becoming more and more expert in using this scientific knowledge when it gets to him. The reward is not his alone; the nation reaps a harvest in more meat from farms and ranges, more crops from the fields, and better all-around development of its agricultural resources.

The USDA published Yearbooks of Agriculture from the 1890s to the 1990s. I grieve the loss of connection with the farmer that these provided. The farmer can still at any time log on to the digital USDA databases, or seek out their state extension agent, or consult with their local groups for support, but science has become a bit disconnected from the every day farmer. This article from 1920 speaks to what I would wish for.

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Filed under agrarianism, books, USDA Yearbooks of Agriculture

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