Some perspectives on the impact of changing agricultural technology


Material Information

Some perspectives on the impact of changing agricultural technology
Physical Description:
27 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Swisher, Marilyn E., 1948-
Popenoe, Hugh
University of Florida
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural innovations   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Technology transfer   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 24-27).
Statement of Responsibility:
M.E. Swisher, H. Popenoe.
General Note:
"University of Florida."

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 663455599
lcc - S494.5.I5 S95 1980z
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Full Text

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M. E. Swisher

University of Florida

H. Popenoe

University of Florida


In face of the pressing need to increase the world's food supplies,

the agricultural system of Western Europe and English-speaking North America

has been posed as a model for developing nations. The Green Revolution, with

its emphasis on the development of high-yielding varieties and the use of

technological basis for American style agriculture in Third World, especially

tropical, nations. Proponents of this view argue that nonland inputs to ag-

riculture must be increased in order to raise yields because the amount of

land that remains uncultivated and that can economically be brought into ag-

ticultural production is limited (15).

While the goal of increasing yields is no doubt a correct one, the

question of increasing nonland inputs into agriculture must be examined more

carefully. These inputs are typically industrially manufactured products --

fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and so on. Viewed within this framework,

the American agricultural system firmly weds agricultural production to in-

dustrial output:. There are a number of problems associated with this stra-

tegy for increasing agricultural productivity, and it is unclear that the in-

troduction of this type of farming system on a worldwide scale is either fea-

sible or desirable.


Heady (26) brings forth one of the main arguments in favor of American

style agriculture when he points out that only five percent of the U.S. pop-

ulation are employed by agriculture. The problem with this comment, a common

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one, is that it fails to take into account the large number of industrially

employed who provide the nonland inputs used by American farmers. Perelman

(39), for example, estimates that about twenty-five percent of the U.S.

labor force is Involved in agriculture if all workers who produce the indus-
trial agricultural inputs, process, transport, and market the final product

are considered as well. In other words, the U.S. agricultural system actu-

ally represents a spatial segregation of the various production functions in-

volved in growing and marketing food.

On a national scale, this segregation of functions leads to a high de-

gree of rural-urban interdependency. It is commonly recognized that urban

dwellers are highly dependent on farms they never see for their daily food.

The densely populated Northeastern United States, for example, accounts for

only one percent of all cattle on feed in the country (51). Less clear is

the farmer's dependence on the industrial worker for his inputs. One of the

two largest inputs for cow-calf operations in Colorado is fuel for the pickup

trucks that have replaced horses on the range (51). Both the pickup and the

fuel travel long distances to reach the farm.

When Third World nations adopt the use of industrial inputs into ag-

riculture a similar dependency is established. In this~case, however, the

dependence relationship is much more likely to be a one-way flow where the

developing nation becomes highly dependent on inputs from the industrialized

nations to maintain food production. The situation is comparable to the in-

creased dependency that occurred in Brazil as a result of substituting na-

tional production of manufactured goods for imported products (20). That is,

the developing nation simply substitutes importation of food for importation

of the raw materials to make food. The country is now dependent not only on

direct food imports, but on industrial inputs to maintain its own food

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producing capacity. The nation then becomes liable to risk not only from cli-

matic variability and other factors operating within the country, but from

perturbations in the internationally controlled industrial sector as well.

This tendency for agricultural production in developing nations to be

subject to disturbance from disequilibria in the international industrial

sector appeared very strongly in 1973-74. Anjos and Noronha (3) in their

analysis or retrailZer use in orazzi sno~w~ei enuea ne-rv7-mprog naions~)T are diS-

proportionately affected by increases in fertilizer costs and scarcities.

Similarly, Harriss (23) shows that scarcity of fertilizer and pesticides and

rapidly rising costs in 1973 produced severe dislocations in areas in India

and Sri Lanki where new high-yielding rice varieties that are heavily depen-

dent on fertilizer and pesticide inputs have been adopted. Prices rose

greatly, waiting time increased so that many farmers failed to receive their

orders in time to use them, and black markets developed. Socially, those

farmers who could not afford to stockpile or pay the higher prices suffered



The American agricultural system is also typically described as highly

productive, using labor productivity as a measure of efficiency. Data re-

ported by Leach (31) provide an example. His data show that labor produc-

tivity in corn production by agriculturalists using hand labor only varied

from 1.340 man-hours of labor per kilogram yield in Guatemala to 0.592 man-

hours,-of labor per kilogram in Mexico. In 1975, in the United States, by

comparison, only 0.003 man-hours per kilogram yield were required (42).

These data are deceptive, however. The use of labor productivity

Masks the energy subsidy. that contributes to agriculture on the American farm.


Pimental and Pimental (42) point out, for example, that the total energy in-

vested to produce and market one can of corn in the United States is eleven

times greater than the food energy contained in the maize.

The noniand inputs into U.S. style agriculture are fossil fuel inputs

in the form of petroleum, machinery, biocides, and fertilizer. These energy

sources are transformed into energy of another form, food, on the farm. As
1il and Erickson ( 8) point out, the choice ast h, nust s r g

riculture has been made on the basis of economic factors, not on the basis

of the relative efficiency of the energy transformation. The low cost of

fossil fuel inputs has made their use profitable, regardless of the energy

efficiency of the agricultural system.

The feasibility of maintaining the high levels of fossil fuel inputs

characteristic of U.S. agriculture on a worldwide scale is unclear in the

face of growing scarcity and rising cost for the inputs. Even in the United

States there is growing debate about the economic feasibility of continuing

these high levels of energy use (21, 51). For Third World nations the cost

of adopting this strategy will be very high, and the earth's material re-

source base may not be able to provide the inputs required. Further, as

energy costs rise, those nations best able to pay the higher market prices

of fossil fuels will be the ones that have access to them.


The adoption of modern agricultural technology in Florida is a fairly

recent phenomenon, occurring mainly since World War II. A county in Northern

Florida, Alachua County, was chosen and a field study was conducted in order

to gain an understanding of how technology has changed and how the changes

that have occurred have affected agriculture as a process. The North Florida

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study site was chosen for two reasons. First, Florida as a whole, as well

as Alachua County, provide an interesting example of both the costs and the

power of modern agricultural technology.

Despite the fact that large areas of Florida are occupied by rela-

tively infertile Spodosols and Ultisols, agriculture is one of the major eco-

nomic activities in the state and Florida ranks twelvth in agricultural pro-

duction in the United States (35). The success of Florida's agriculture is

due, in large part, to human factors: the demand for Florida's products in

the north and the ability of the state's farmers to overcome the obstacles

to agriculture presented by the natural environment.

Second, from the point of view of the physical environment, Alachua

County provides a good analog of the inputs that would be needed in many trop-

ical areas to maintain maximum yield agriculture. Average annual rainfall in

the county is 1255 mm per year, with a mean annual summer temperature of 270C

and a mean annual winter temperature of 140C (2). Most of the county's soils

are relatively infertile, and many fall into the Soil Conservation Service's

third land capability, classification, implying fairly serious constraints

for agricultural production (8). The nonland inputs required to maintain

high yield, energy intensive agriculture under these conditions represents a

more appropriate approximation of what could be expected to occur in many

tropical areas if American agricultural techniques were adopted than examples

from such areas as the American Midwest, where rainfall and temperatures are

lower and soil fertility higher than in Alachua County.

Historical sources provided some of the information, and several farm-

ers in the area were interviewed. Due to the interest in changing agricul-

Stural techniques over a long period of time, the farmers interviewed were


selected on the basis of their long farming experience. All represent fami-

lies which have been farmers in the area for at least two, and usually more,

generations.1 The role of fertilizers, a key nonfarm input in modern agri-

culture, is emphasized, but other nonland inputs are also analyzed.


The most striking feature of agriculture in Alachua County in the late

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was its subsistence character. Vir-

tually all products used by the farm family were grown on the farm, although

a few itens, such as coffee and salt, were purchased. Just as the farm pro-

vided for the family's needs, almost all inputs into agriculture came from

the farm. McGehee (34) points out that the system was, to a large degree, a

closed one in which the farmer produced his own "fuel," feed for the draught

animals that were used to cultivate the land, and then reclaimed their manure

for use on small acreages of cash crops, or on garden plots.

Fertilizer use provides one example of how farmers minimized purchased

inputs. A variety of fertilizing techniques were used, depending on soil

type, resource availability, and the farmer's own interests. Stable manure

was collected and spread. For many farmers, this was the major source of fer-

tilizer (33, 36). In other cases, its use was not considered critical.

Simmons (47) says that despite the large quantities of manure that accumulated

on his farm from the many horses and mules, the barn was cleaned only irregu-

larly when the manure became a nuisance, and Persons (41)_deplores the waste

of this valuable resource on some farms in the area. Wood ash was one main

source of potash (38), a particularly important fertilizer for Alachua County

10ne interviewee lives in Levy County-, immediately south of Alachua
County, and one lives in Gilchrist County, just west of Alachua County.

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soils. Similarly, top soil hammock failings, grass clippings, pine litter,

and muck were used (52).

The use of green manures was also common. A wide variety of legumes

were planted, including indigo (7), cowpeas, velvet beans (19), peanuts (34),

and beggarweed (44). The three most important, in order of importance, were

velvet beans, cowpeas, and beggarweed (44). Farmers often cleared a new

patch of land each year for vegetable and cash crop production, depending on

native soil fertility to produce the first crop, and then turned to the use

of legumes to maintain fertility and the production of less valuable crops,

such as field corn, in later years (34). Using legumes cost only about one-

half as much as buying organic fertilizers such as cottonseed meal or dried

blood (51).

The role of peanuts in the early agricultural ecosystem was particu-

larly important and illustrates the integrated, multi-purpose character of

the farming system. Peanuts were for many years primarily a source of hog

feed and not a cash crop. As late as 1945, of the 21,457 hectares of pea-

nuts planted in Alachua County, only 2,631 hectares were harvested for sale,

while 18,826 hectares were used as hog feed (1). Peanuts were often inter-

planted with other crops, especially on the less fertile sands. Corn could

not be densely planted on low fertility soils, for example, and Spencer (48)

notes that, ". on sandy land where corn should be planted wide, the addi-

tion of peanuts will not reduce the yield of corn. Consequently, the two

crops planted together is a decided advantagee" Cured peanut vines were also

an important hay supply. Peanuts, then, were an all-purpose crop on the

early farm: they provided human and animal food and served as a fertilizer.

Some of the fertilizing systems were imaginative in their labor-saving

aspects as well. Cattle or hogs were often penned for winter feeding. They

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would be penned for winter feeding. They were kept in a fenced area to be

used later for the family vegetable garden, and the manure they deposited

was turned under when the land was plowed (15, 36). A similar system involved

the use of hogs and peanuts (18). A recently cleared area would often be

planted first in peanuts, most of which were used for hog feed. The peanuts

were believed to improve the quality of the soil, and the hogs performed two

useful functions as they ate the peanuts. First, oneir manure turnner en-

riched the soil. Second, they helped prepare the land for intensive culti-

vation by working the soil to remove the peanuts. The plots would often be

used for commercial production of cotton or tobacco in the following year.

Commercial fertilizers were sold in the late nineteenth and early

twentieth centuries and did provide a nonfarm input to agriculture. Commer-

cial sources of phosphate and potash were available by the mid-nineteenth

century (13, 22). While there were commercial sources of nitrogen as well,

these were largely organic nitrogen sources. Persons (41) lists the follow-

ing commercial nitrogen fertilizers available in Florida: nitrate of soda,

nitrate of potash, sulphate of amrmonia, cottonseed meal, linseed meal, castor

pomace, dried fish, dried blood, tankage, tobacco stems, horn and hoof waste,

and wool waste. Other commercial fertilizers included basic slag, precipita-

ted phosphate, superphosphate, kainite salts, manure salts, potassium chlor-

ide, potassium sulfate, and sulfate of potash-magnesia (13).

Alachua County farms in this period bear a great resemblance to the

small fans of the Third World today in many ways. The variety of cropping

techniques, the absence of both purchased inputs and cash crop sales, and

the high degree of diversity within each farm are all features that the two

share in cannon. There are, of course, also many differences between the two,

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imposed both by cultural and physical factors. Nonetheless, it is interesting

that the self-sufficient family farm, at least in Alachua County, has only

disappeared relatively recently, and the process of change may provide an

example for other regions.


Since the 1930's, and particularly in the last thirty to forty years,

farmers have more or less simultaneously adopted a variety of new practices

which may be regarded as a "package"-of new technology. The new practices

include the use of chemical fertilizers, mechanization, use of new hybrid

varieties, improved methods of shipment and storage, use of pesticides, herbi-

cides, and fungicides, improvement of livestock and pastures, and so on. In

an overall sense the adoption of these practices represents a change from

subsistence to commercial agriculture. Viewing agriculture as a process,

the farm has become an-interdependent link, using technology and energy that

originate outside the farm and producing a product which in turn is consumed

off the farm. Energy flow has become a one-way process wherein the farm im-

ports and consumes energy in chemical forms and then exports energy as food.

Chemical fertilizers. The lack of a sufficient nitrogen source was

only finally overcome in 1921 when direct systhesis of ammonia from atmos-

pheric nitrogen was developed (22), and chemical fertilizers were first util-

ized by most farmers in Alachua County in the 1930's (4, 18, 45). As Figure

1 shows, the use of chemical fertilizers in Alachua County has risen steadilyy

since 1940. In the earlier years of their usage, farmers generally restricted

use of commercial fertilizers to cash crops (34). However, as fertilizers

became more available and less expensive, their use spread to field crops.

Crosby (14), for example, first applied fertilizer to field corn in 1937, a

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practice new to the area at that time. By 1954, fertilizer was canmonly used

on hay and pasture as well (9), and Andrews (4) estimates that the years

since 1950 have marked virtually universal adoption of chemical fertilizer

use in all types of farming in the county. It is also interesting to note

that the rate of increase in usage declined between 1970 and 1975, a period

in which the cost of nitrogen fertilizer doubled (43).

The analysis of the fertilizers used has also increased, although

Florida uses lower analysis fertilizers than most states. In 1960, the aver-

age fertilizer grade used in Alachua County was 5.56 percent nitrogen, 8.08

percent phosphate, and 10.16 percent potash (2), compared to an average fer-

tilizer grade of 11.6 percent nitrogen, 11.0 percent phosphate, and 9.1 per-

cent potash in the United States as a whole (43). The use of low analysis

mixed fertilizer is common in Florida and helps explain the low overall anal-

ysis. In 1975, 6-6-6 was still the most common mixed fertilizer in use in

the state (43), and 6-8-8 is the basic fertilizer applied to vegetable crops

in Alachua County (10).

Mechanization. One of the most important changes accompanying the use

of chemical fertilizers was mechanization of farm labor. Figure 2 shows the

decline in draught animals that has occurred in the county since 1925. While

the decline in 1930 and 1935 is a result of the depression, the decline in

animals since 1939 coincides well with the introduction of the tractor, me-

chanical harvesters, and other new equipment.2 Several. farmers interviewed

purchased their first tractor in the late 1930's or early 1940's, for example.

However, tractors were limited in terms of their functions and were used

It is impossible to separate horses used for pleasure riding from
draught animals in the data. Beginning with- the 1959 Agricultural Census,
horses and mules were no longer reported separately.

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almost exclusively for plowing until the development of the power lift on the

Ford-Ferguson tractor in 1942 and the accompanying development of specialized

cultivation and harvesting equipment (47). Thus, even though tractors came

into use in the county in the 1930's, draught animals were still needed until

the mid-1940's.

The value of implements and machinery has risen steadily in the same

period. In 1925, for example, 2,415 farms included implements and machinery

valued at $440,595.00 or $182.44 per farm. By 1944, 1,550 farms reported im-

plements and machinery valued at $1,190,995.00 or $768.38 per farm, and by

1969, the value increased to $10,372.82 per farm on the 455 fanas reporting

(9). In 1925, there were only 0.01 tractors per farm in the county. In

1944, there were 1.22 tractors per farm, and in 1969 there were 1.99 tractors

per farm (9)3

Accompanying changes in farming practices. Mechanization and its in-

teraction with other new techniques have produced a number of changes in

farming practice. Perhaps most important, it has increased the amount of

land that the farmer can cultivate. This is a two-way interaction. The farm-

er can cultivate more land with the use of machinery, and he must cultivate

more land to be able to afford the added expenses not only of implement, but

of fertilizer, improved seeds, and the increasing cost of land and taxes.

In this light, MeGehee's (34) comments are interesting. He notes that mech-

anization did make farm work less arduous, but that it did not necessarily

increase the farmer's leisure time. Farming is still an sunrise to sunset


3The data for 1969 are for farms with sales of more than $2,500 per
year. Given the amount of sales from farms today, this value may be taken
to define a commercial operation.

As Figure 3 shows, the average farm size in Alachua County has in-

creased greatly, and, in general, the rapid growth in farm size has occurred

since 1950.4 That farms were larger in 1925 than in 1930 and 1935 is not

surprising because many farmers were forced to sell part of their land dur-

ing the depression. The number of farms in the county declined correspond-

ingly, from 2,415 in 1925 to 1,073 in 1959 (9).

One farm holding in the county has grown trom 130 nectares in one

1850's to over 1215 hectares today (12). The enormous growth in size of this

farm operation would not be reflected in census data because the land is

owned by several related individuals, and because a considerable acreage is

rented each year, a common practice. The growth in the size of the actual

farm unit may therefore exceed that indicated by the data that is available.

Mechanization of agriculture has also forced changes in land use. In-

tercropping is one example. As mentioned above, peanuts were once frequently

intercropped with corn and other crops. However, once chemical fertilizers

became available, corn could be planted closely on virtually any soil. Prior

to the use of fertilizer on corn, the crop was planted in at least 1.1 m rows,

with 1.1 m between plants (45). When intercropped with peanuts between ra-

ther than in the corn rows, a 1.8 m to 2.4 m row spacing was used (48). To-

day, a 91 cm row spacing and a 15 cm drill spacing are used. The advantage

of intercropping peanuts has disappeared and the use of mechanical cultivators

makes the practice virtually impossible. This is clearly reflected in the

acreage of peanuts planted alone and with other crops. Prior to 1949, the

peanut acreage planted with other crops greatly exceeded the acreage planted

alone. In 1949, the two were about equal with 4,195 hectares planted alone

4Data for 1964 are for farms with sales of more than $2,500 per year.

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and 4,619 hectares planted with other crops. By 1959, the acreage planted

with other crops had almost disappeared, falling to 409 hectares (9). Pea-

nuts are only one example and many others, such as vegetable production in

young fruit and nut groves, could be cited (52).

Livestock improvements. Similar improvements have occurred in animal

husbandry, especially in cattle ranching. Two great problems faced cattlemen

prior to 1930. The first was the occurrence of cattle tick fever. Florida

range cattle, introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, were resis-

tant to this disease (11). These cattle, however, provided a low quality

meat, were low milk producers, and reproduced poorly. Better quality animals

brought into the area suffered high mortality from the disease.

In 1929, an eradication program was carried out which eliminated the

disease, and a little later it was learned that the second problem, "salt

sick," could be overcome by simple mineral supplements (11). Thus, ranchers

were able to improve their herds, and by 1940 over 700 purebred bulls were

brought into the county (16). The higher value of the improved stock in

turn raised interest in improving the quality of pastures, and by 1954 over

18,200 hectares of permanent pasture had been planted, mostly with Pangola,

Pensacola Bahia, and Coastal Bermuda grasses (37).

The role of the Agricultural Extension Service has been important in

bringing about many of the changes in farming in the area, but its value is

particularly well illustrated in this case. The earlier failure in introduc-

ing improved strains naturally made farmers reluctant to invest again in high-

er quality animals. The one-day shows of cattle organized by the Extension

Service clearly demonstrated the superiority of the new strains and helped

overcome this obstacle (16).

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Once the herds were improved, both cattlemen and hog farmers became

dissatisfied with the poor market possibilities for their animals. Farmers

were either forced to take their animals to Jacksonville, about 80 km away,

or to accept the price offered by travelling buyers who passed through the

area (47). The opening of the Gainesville Livestock Market in 1935 was

therefore an important event (16), and points out the importance of factors

external to one rarm In enangrng agricuicurai practices.

Yield increases. The impact of fertilizer use, new hybrids, and the

use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides is reflected in the great in-

creases in yields that have occurred. Corn yields have increased from an

average of about 35 bushels per hectare in 1954 to an average of 173 bushels

per hectare today, with a standard application of 560 kilograms per hectare

of 7-14-21 plus 140 kilograms per hectare of nitrogen (4). Tobacco yields,

where irrigation has been a very important factor, show similar dramatic in-

creases, from an average of 855 kilograms per hectare in 1940 to 2,050 kilo-

grams per hectare in 1969 (9). Irrigation is a later improvement than ferti-

lizer use and the greatest increases in tobacco yields occurred in the early

1960's. Further, the increases in yields have been accompanied by an in-

crease in the quality of the product, especially in vegetable crops, from an

esthetic point of view. Johnson (29) estimates that a large portion of the

fertilizer and pesticides used goes to maintain top quality, and notes the

change in consumer preference that has occurred in the last 20 to 30 years.


Alachua County's farmers appear to have been highly successful in

their adoption of new agricultural technology. The success of the modern

Farm, however, should be weighed from other viewpoints than simply increased

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yields or greater labor productivity. The costs of the new agricultural

techniques are not always as easily discerned as the benefits.

Energy costs. Florida ranks first in fertilizer use per harvested

hectare in the United States. In 1975, Florida farmers applied 626 kilograms

of plant nutrients (N, P205, and K20) per harvested hectare, compared to an

average of 96 kilograms per hectare for the United States as a whole and 218

Kcilograms- per heccare in Georgia, the a~scnd hiighest- useir .(43). The high~r

rate of fertilizer use can be attributed to the long growing season, high

losses due to high rainfall and temperature, poor native soil fertility, and

the high value of many of the crops grown.

The energy cost of Florida s fertilizer use is very high. Using an

average of 74 million Btu per ton of mixed fertilizer (46), Florida farmers

use an average of 52,022 million Btu of energy per harvested hectare for fer-

tilizer inputs alone. Assuming that the high rate of fertilizer use in

Florida would be typical of use on poor soils under intensive cultivation in

tropical areas, it becomes clear that the energy costs of chemical fertilizer

application will be very high for developing nations. Further, the dollar

cost can be expected to rise because of the use of natural gas in nitrogen

fertilizer manufacturing, and the relative inflexibility of the fuel source

for this aspect of fertilizer manufacture places restraints on the ability of

many developing nations to substitute local production for imports.

Selective adoption. If the entire array of technological innovations

that came into use in the study area are adopted in developing nations, the

energy costs are much higher. Some therefore argue for selective adoption

of certain of the practices current in the United States. Wortman (53) ar-

gues, for example, against mechanization in -Third World countries, pointing

out that mechanized agriculture is less productive per unit area of land

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than labor intensive agriculture which can take advantage of intercropping

and other high yield strategies. At the same time, he also presses for adop-

tion of other aspects of "high yield, science-based crop and animal produc-

tion systems," and argues that, "Needed now are concerted campaigns to move

into the countryside not only with knowledge of new techniques and new var-

ieties of crops and animals but also with roads and power systems, with in-

puts such as fertilizers, pesticides and vaccines for animals and with ar-

rangements for credit and for marketing agricultural products." The question

is whether it is probable that farmers will adopt only part of the technolog-

ical package that has been accepted in the United States and elsewhere. Evi-

dence indicates that the tendency is toward adoption of the entire technolog-

ical package unless specific efforts to the contrary are made.

Harriss (25) studied the adoption of new high yielding varieties of

rice in an Indian village, Even though mechanization was not necessarily a

part of the government's package of suggested practices, both mechanized plow-

ing and threshing are now common, adding to rural underemployment and unem-

ployment. He attributes this adoption to several factors: the.difficulty of

hand threshing of the new varieties, the unquestioning belief in the benefits

of mechanization by extension workers, and the desire of farmers to take full

advantage of rainfall in growing the dry season crop (an advantage that ac-

crue~s to the large farmers who can afford the tractors). Elsewhere (24)

Harriss explains that the use of tractors is detrimental to productivity per

unit area and leads to wasteful use of water because of poor levelling in

the padi, and that the adoption exacerbated production constraints in 1973-74

when India's foreign exchange crisis resulted in inavailability of parts.

Where mechanization is adopted, farm size tneds to increase, as the

size of farm holdings in the study area show. Perelman and Shea (40) point

- 17 -

that the large farm unit may not be very efficient, whether efficiency is de-

fined as profitability or the realization of the greatest social and environ-

mental good with least expenditure of scarce resources. The large farm in

the United States appears profitable. However, as the authors explain,

large farms receive unfair advantages in a number of ways, such as discounts

on purchased inputs.

vailianaos (50) comments on a similar inequality In Third W~orld na-

tions. Only a small elite in Latin America have benefitted from the con-

certed effort to apply modern technology to agricultural production. Those

farmers with the greatest resources have been better able to acquire the

needed inputs for using the new techniques than have the millions of small

farmers. Where the user of new technology is already in a better socio-

economic position than the small non-adopter the introduction of new tech-

nology may actual lead to exacerbation of social inequalities, and an even

more uneven distribution of land and resources.

Similarly, large farms are wasteful of human resources. The decline

in the number of farms in Alachua County forced many off the land, and

Perelman (39) correctly claims that an accurate account of American agricul-

tural development would have to take into consideration the proliferation

of urban social and economic problems that resulted from massive rural to

urban migration in the United States. In Third World countries, excessively

rapid urbanization is already a serious problem. When small farmers are

placed at a disadvantage by the market mechanism -- which still reflects a

high rate of return on every dollar spent on energy inputs -- the number

of farmers declines, urban migration increases, and pressing social problems

are worsened.

- 18 -

From an ecological point of view, the efficiency of energy intensive

agriculture is equally doubtful. The greatest long term stability can be

achieved when agriculture is seen as a process that is limited by biological

factors. Lugo (32) describes the ultimate weakness in an agricultural sys-

tem where fossil fuel inputs are continually escalated: "Photosynthetic out-

put will be proportional to the factor that is in limited supply and finally

limiting factor will cause another to become limiting until the limit of the

efficiency of solar energy capture is reached. This principle applies to the

'magic' varieties of plants which require water and fertilization in quanti-

ties which preclude those factors as limiting factors."

Adaptability and dependence. The typical Alachua County farm prior

to World War II was an essentially self-sufficient unit. Cash crop produc-

tion was secondary, as were expenditures, and diversity within each farm was

high. While Alachua County as a whole still exhibits highly diverse agricul-

ture (much more so than a typical lowa County, for example), the individual

farmer today is a specialist, producing one or a few crops. Farmers attri-

bute this both to the high cost of specialized equipment and to the growing

need for expertise in a highly competitive industry. The farm is now a busi-

ness, producing for sale on the market, and almost all inputs the farmer uses

on his farm, even the food his family eats, are purchased off the farm.

Highly specialized agriculture of this type may be adaptable in its

totality, but the choices open to each individual are limited. Further, the

spatial segregation of agricultural functions -- both the rural-urban separ-

ation and farm-by-farm specialization -- makes the adoption of energy saving

integrative techniques difficult. Spatial segregation of animal and plant

production, for example, places limitations on the use of organic fertilizers

-19 -

in the United States (30). While the complete lack of specialization and ab-

sence of nonfarm inputs characteristic of the early Alachua County farm and

many Third World farms today may not be desirable, the opposite extreme re-

presented by the modern American farm also has limitations. In the long term

an intermediate form may prove most efficient in terms of both energy use and

ecological stability, but reintegration is difficult where specialization has

already occurred on a large scale.

Alternatives. Adoption of the agricultural strategy that has proven

highly successful in Europe and North America may, then, produce severe dis-

locations in the social and economic life of developing nations. While agri-

cultural productivity does need to be increased, dependence on the market

mechanism alone to distribute resources and the benefits reaped from their

use may result in unwanted. By consciously considering alternative agricul-

tural strategies, developing nations can direct agricultural development to

benefit the largest number of citizens.

Agricultural development programs which make optimum use of local hu-

man and material resources can limit dependency relationships with industrial-

ized nations and benefit the population of developing nations. Small hold-

ings have been shown to achieve higher yields per unit area than large hold-

ings, and they increase the percentage of the population that can be fruit-

fully employed in agriculture. However, as the examples from Latin America,

India, and Sri Lanki show, small farmers are at a disadvantage where market

forces alone control access to agricultural inputs and distribution of the

final product. Unless strong government measures are taken to provide the

smallholder with access to inputs and markets, the small farmer will suffer

from technological change in many instances. Similarly, labor intensive ag-

riculture, not only on the farm but in marketing, transporting, and processing

- 20 -

foods can also take advantage of human resources. Here the example of Cuba,

where concentration on sugar production using manual labor transformed an un-

employment problem into a problem of labor scarcity may provide useful les-

sons (6), as may the labor intensive marketing systems of Haiti and Jamaica.

While some nonfarm inputs to agriculture are needed, the use of

energy intensive products can be limited. Organic fertilizers, for example,

can be used to minimize chanical fertilizer use. Ln 1970-71-~, for rnstanc~e,

organic materials of all types (including urban wastes) in developing coun-

tries contained more than seven times the plant nutrients in mineral fertil-

izers used in those nations (17). Further, the use of organic fertilizers

establishes a slow rate of fertilization more in keeping with natural cycles

(49). Similarly, protein production by fish in rice padies or waste disposal

lagoons could be used. Further research in integrative agricultural tech-

niques, concentrating on optimal use of the resources that the small farmer

already has available instead of massive introductions of new nonfarm inputs,

can provide viable alternatives to energy intensive monoculture.


The goals of Alachua County farmers, like those of the G~reen Revolu-

tion, are laudable -- an increased production of food and wealth. The bene-

fits that have been achieved by modernizing agriculture in Alachua County,

however, are not necessarily as great as they appear on the surface. In

terms of hidden energy costs, the county's agriculture is very wasteful and

increasing concern over the future of agriculture as it is now practiced is

voiced by both farmers and other agricultural specialists in the state. Per-

haps equally important, the security once associated with a livelihood on the

farm is gone. Farmers explain that the high risk of the competitive

-21 -

agribusiness is one reason why they do not recommend that their children be-

came farmers.

As a physical system, Alachua County may represent a good example of

the kind of energy inputs that farmers in tropical areas would have to make

to duplicate the American agricultural system. Socially and economically

there are vast differences. Nonetheless, the same processes may occur in de-

veloping nations, and evidence indicates that strong intervention is needea

to prevent the growth of social disequality and increased dependence when

changes in agricultural systems are made.



1939 1945 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975

Data from unpublished mimeographed report by A. T.
Andrews; Bureau of the Census, Agricultural Census
of 1940; and Flroida Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services, Summary Report of Fertilizer Ma-
terials and Fertilizer Mixtures Consumed in Florida,
1943-1956 and 1968-1976.

Figure 2 -- Number of Horses and Mules in Alachua County

-22 -

Figure 1 -- Chemical Fertilizer Use in Alachua County'

(In Thousands)






0 2

1930 1935 1939 1944 1949 1954


+ Mules

Data from Bureau of the Census,
Census, 1925 through 1954


-23 -

Figure 4 -- Average Farm Size in Alachua County*

Farm Size
(In Hectares)





1925 1930 1935 1939 1944 1949 1954 1959 1964

Data from Bureau of
through 1969.

the Census, Agricultural Census, 1925


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- 25 -

- 25 -

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-26 -

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-27 -

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