One of my best sources of information in the agronomic field has been the USDA Yearbooks of Agriculture. Having access to studies from 130 years ago up until the end of publishing in 1992 has been a boon for my education. It is hard not to notice, however, the stark changes in the writing styles over those years, and the perceived shift in the target audience based on the tone of the writing. Here I will present a contrast of two randomly selected excerpts to illustrate my point.
To effectively show this phenomenon, I will start with a passage from the 1939 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture. After opening to a random page, I see the article “The Problem of Income and its Distribution“:
Marius Farioletti, 1939 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
Moving to just 30 years later, I open to a random page in the 1969 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture and am presented with “All About Meat, That Key Item in Food Buying, Meal Planning“:
The 1939 article goes on to define income maldistribution, and gives possible causes, solutions, and workarounds. The 1969 article goes on to describe all the different cuts of meat, what they look like, how they are brought to market, and how they can be cooked.
The styles and tones of these two excerpts are starkly different. The vocabulary and sentence structure of the later article seem as if the author or the intended audience is expected to be of a lower level of education. The earlier article supplies data-driven arguments whereas the later one tells an anecdotal story. It appears as the difference between a scholarly paper and a newspaper article. This is not a unique comparison, as every Yearbook after 1963 is written in this new manner. Only 30 years had passed between these two examples, which leads me to the question – what happened?
My theory – The Green Revolution. By this time (the early 60s) The Green Revolution was in full swing. Whole sections of the country had already been ‘upgraded’ to new modes of agricultural production. The farmer no longer needed to solve the problems of how to produce abundant nutritious food on their farm, as the scientists had now worked out a blanket solution to all agricultural problems. Herbicide, fertilizer, pesticide, fungicide, and dwarfed plant varieties that performed well when doused with these chemicals, but without that treatment would falter and fail. I think the publication of the Yearbook transitioned to consumer articles because they felt the farmer no longer needed to hear what progress had been made in agricultural science over the last year, as they had an army of agents ready and willing to ‘educate’ them on what pruducts and services to buy to increase their levels of production. The farmer transitioned from being our base of production to just another consumer, relying upon raw materials from some foreign place. We must re-think this paradigm.
Agriculture begins in the soil at your feet. Find a way to support a local farmer who is producing food you would want your children to eat.