Organic Farming
Graphic designed by Daniel Richardson
by Daniel Richardson


PopTech 2009: Michael Pollan from PopTech on Vimeo

The History of farming in the United States: Eating the leftovers of World War II

Pre-World War II

Heavily aligned with technological developments of the 1860’s, the first agricultural revolution saw the rise of machinery in farming. Its impact on production changed agriculture in the United States of America, with farmers progressing from feeding few to feeding many. The rise in production, coupled with years of technological advances, allowed for the average farmer to become nearly eight times as productive over a span of 60 years. By 1890 farmers were producing 100 bushels of wheat per 25-30 labor hours, far surpassing the 250 labor hours required to produce the same quantities in 1830s.

The first 40 years of the 20th century saw simultaneous advances in biochemistry and engineering that rapidly changed farming. The introduction of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine fueled the beginning to the era of the tractor, and made hundreds of mechanized farm implements possible. With production on the rise, farmers and scientists began research in plant breeding and commercialized hybrid seeds.
In Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka, a microbiologist working in soil science and plant pathology, began to doubt the modern agricultural movement. In the early 1940s, he quit his job as a research scientist, returned to his family's farm, and devoted the next 30 years to developing a radical no-till organic method for growing grain, now known as Fukuoka farming.

Post-World War II
Technological advances during World War II accelerated post-war innovation in all aspects of agriculture, resulting in significant developments, including large-scale irrigation, fertilization, and pesticides. In particular, two chemicals that had been produced in quantity for warfare, were repurposed to peace-time agricultural uses. Ammonium nitrate, used in munitions, became an abundantly cheap source of nitrogen. DDT, developed to control disease-carrying insects around troops, became a general insecticide, launching the era of widespread pesticide use. At the same time, increasingly powerful and sophisticated farm machinery allowed a single farmer to work over larger areas of land, allowing for fields to grow larger.
In 1944, an international campaign called the Green Revolution was launched in Mexico with private funding from the US. It encouraged the development of hybrid plants, chemical controls, large-scale irrigation, and heavy mechanization in agriculture around the world.

During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a topic of scientific interest, but research tended to concentrate on developing new chemical approaches. In the US, J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing through promotion of organic gardening.
In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring, chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment. A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, Silent Spring is widely considered as being a key factor in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT

In the 1970s, global movements concerned with pollution and the environment increased their focus on organic farming. As the distinction between organic and conventional food became clearer, one goal of the organic movement was to encourage consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans like, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.
In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, widely known as IFOAM, was founded in Versailles, France, and dedicated itself to the diffusion and exchange of information on the principles and practices of organic agriculture across national and linguistic boundaries.
In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic production. This led to legislation and certification standards being enacted in the 1990s, which still are in effect today. Since the early 1990s, the retail market for organic farming in developed economies has been growing by about 20% annually due to increasing consumer demand.

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