Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
as refrigeration limited natural forces and allowed otherwise seasonal tasks to be performed
throughout the year (prediction 9.3). Overwhelmingly, the new firms engaged in production
at either the beginning (equipment, fertilizer, and seed) or the end (marketing, processing,
transportation, and storage) of the agricultural production sequence. In the late nineteenth
century these firms included flour mills, cheese factories, creameries, early equipment
manufacturers (plows, reapers), grain brokers, meatpackers, slaughterhouses, livestock
breeders, canneries, and other food processors. This process has continued throughout
the twentieth century as advances in biological and chemical technology and new product
developments in artificial insemination, feeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds that result
in gains from specialization and reduced seasonality for certain stages of production.
Accordingly, the family farm has abandoned these stages and now controls only the purely
biological growth stages of farm production. Figure 9.3 shows how the extent of a family
farm has diminished over time.
Bonanza Farms in the Red River Valley: An Experiment in Factory Farming. In the
last quarter of the nineteenth century, an experiment in farm organization took place on the
virgin prairie of the Red River Valley dividing Minnesota and North Dakota. Between 1870
and 1890 a number of extremely large wheat farms were established, some exceeding 50,000
acres (roughly 78 square miles). Even by modern standards these farms were enormous,
but their main distinguishing feature was not their size but rather their factory-corporate
organization. The owners were typically businessmen with little or no farm experience.
These owners raised capital in eastern markets and organized these farms along the lines
of contemporary manufacturing firms typically as corporations with professional managers
and a specialized wage labor force. The “bonanza farms,” as they came to be known, were
hailed as the future of agriculture. 26 Yet after only one generation, nearly all the bonanza
farms were gone, systematically replaced by family farmers.
Most bonanza farms focused exclusively on wheat production and kept virtually the entire
production sequence within the firm: from sodbusting, seed development, machine repair,
and hardware supply to blacksmithing, seed cleaning, grain storage, and flour milling. The
farms were also highly mechanized and used the latest large-scale equipment. For example,
in just the second crop season on the well-known Cass-Cheney Farm, with 4,000 acres of
wheat planted, Oliver Dalrymple assembled 26 breaking plows, 40 plows for turning sod,
21 seeders, 60 harrows, 30 self-binding harvesters, 5 steam powered threshers, 80 horses,
and 30 wagons.
Labor on bonanza farms was organized in a complex hierarchical system common to
industrial manufacturing. Managers were paid a combination of a salary and a commission
that depended on farm profits. The farms were broken into 5,000-acre divisions headed by
superintendents and 1,200-acre stations headed by foremen. Most of the manual labor force
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