Agriculture is one of the important pillars of the US economy. American agriculture produces about 30% of the world’s agricultural products with a population of less than 2% of the United States, and its information and intelligence are also leading the world. Its farmers are highly integrated with modern society.
Behind the American agricultural prosperity, there are also two unique crises. First, updating equipment requires a lot of cost, and farmers are easy to indebted. The high bankruptcy rate in recent years indicates that modern agriculture in the United States has once again encountered bottlenecks in development. Second, most of the agricultural workers are illegal immigrants. The uncertainty of their status and treatment means that they are affected by immigration policies at any time.
Even so, the development of the United States from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture in the past two centuries has been of great enlightenment to developing countries.
American agricultural prosperity history
There are two unrepeatable experiences in the development of modern agriculture in the United States. One is to inherit the tradition of commercial agriculture in the UK, and the other is to provide large areas of land for large-scale agriculture.
As early as the British colonial period, the United States inherited the experience of the British modern “commercial agriculture”, paralleling the two goals of commodity exchange and self-sufficiency, which played a powerful role in the open land of the Americas. As the American economic history scholar Fett said, “Capitalism and profit system are the basic content of the cultural wealth that immigrants bring to the Americas.” Such values formed the internal cause of economic development and provided an endogenous impetus for the subsequent territorial expansion of the United States.
The close relationship between commercial agriculture and the market will ultimately place high demand on land. In the 19th century, the Westward Movement of the United States had two main reasons, one was a favorable international environment, and the other was a strong demand for land. The purchase of Louisiana, and the subsequent westward movement, has had a profound impact on the development of modern agriculture in the United States.
The treatment of new land will influence the development direction of American agriculture. At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the government issued a number of land bills, stipulating that the minimum purchase of land was adjusted from 640 acres in 1785 to 320 acres in 1800, then to 160 acres in 1804, 80 acres in 1820, and 1832 in 1832. 40 acres. These adjustments leave room for small farmers, but they still provide land resources and legal guarantees for the rise of large farms.
Large farms have also placed urgent demands on agricultural mechanization. The rapid development of American industry after World War II also led to the upgrading of agricultural machinery. New types of agricultural machinery are emerging and moving toward integration, intelligence and automation. The United States has the world’s leading agricultural machinery manufacturing company: John Deere is a world-renowned multinational enterprise of agricultural and forestry machinery, producing high-powered tractors and combine harvesters; Case New Holland Group is one of the world’s largest agricultural machinery manufacturing companies, sales name The world’s best.
Agricultural biotechnology is also constantly being updated. Monsanto, DuPont, and Meisheng are among the world’s leading companies in the global seed, fertilizer and pesticide industries.
And all this is inseparable from the intellectual support of agricultural education. The Landscaping Academy is a major feature of American agricultural education, which receives funding from the proceeds of the federal government’s grants to the states. In the Western Movement, the government successively enacted bills, from the Morrill Act of 1862 to the Hatch Act and the Smith-Liver Act, encouraging states to develop agricultural education. Various states have established agricultural experimental stations and agricultural cooperation extension stations, laying a foundation for the integration mechanism of agricultural education, scientific research and promotion.
To date, the US Congress has enacted more than 30 laws on agriculture and agricultural education, spending more than $7 billion annually to oversee its implementation. In addition, the US government’s annual financial investment in agriculture amounts to more than 60 billion US dollars.
With land, technology and mechanized scale operations, production and efficiency are guaranteed, but there is still no guarantee that farmers’ income will continue to grow. After World War I, European agriculture resumed, demand for US agricultural products decreased, and farmers’ incomes plummeted. The Agricultural Adjustment Act passed by the Roosevelt New Deal began the United States to regulate agriculture through price subsidies and “falling farm subsidies”.
In 1996, the United States once abolished price subsidies, but because farmers’ incomes fluctuated greatly, the government subsequently included food, animal husbandry, and fruits and vegetables together in the scope of subsidies. The government allocates large sums of money each year to compensate farmers for market losses and poor harvest losses. Moreover, there are many preferential provisions on rural finance in the US more than 100 agricultural bills. For example, in agricultural mortgage loans, agricultural credit, and crop insurance, there are laws to ensure that farmers have reliable access to funds.
The US government has also built dense reservoir dams in agricultural areas across the country, improving farmland water conservancy networks such as irrigation and drainage, drip irrigation, and power facilities; telecom pipeline networks and broadband are also being upgraded to improve agricultural informationization and intelligence.
More importantly, environmental organizations are beginning to pay attention to the co-prosperity between ecology and agriculture, and consumers are increasingly paying attention to food safety, which has promoted the development of organic agriculture. Organic farms focus on controlling scale and taking a sustainable development route, and combining multiple objectives such as cost control, ecological benefits, economic benefits, and food safety, or will become one of the future directions for agricultural transformation in the United States.
Industry crisis: various uncertainties
Behind the enviable high mechanization, high intelligence, high yield and high returns, there are some unique crises in American agriculture – the shortage of workers and the risk of safety.
In 1870, the United States had nearly 50% of the agricultural population. By 2008, less than 2% of the population was engaged in agriculture. But this data only covers people with citizenship. In fact, a large amount of manual labor is done by temporary employees without legal status. The uncertainty of identity and treatment directly threatens the stability of the underlying agricultural workers.
In 1999-2009, about half of the crops in the United States were planted and harvested by illegal new immigrants. In addition to mechanical operations, other jobs rely mainly on new immigrants (such as Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, and Mexicans). Most of these new immigrants have language communication barriers, and there is no corresponding technical reserve. They can only work in low-tech jobs and have low wages.
Because of legal status issues and the lack of modern technology, the mobility of illegal migrant workers is low. To some extent, this ensures the stability of the underlying agricultural worker population. In order to increase the stability of this group, the United States passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 to give special amnesty to workers in special agricultural fields. This has slightly improved the lives of some workers, but more people do not enjoy this preferential treatment. Moreover, even those lucky people who enjoy the amnesty can only rely on the community and immigrant health insurance centers, which have problems of insufficient funds and medical staff.
While modern agriculture is improving productivity, there are also security risks that are easily overlooked. US agricultural use accounts for 75% of the country’s pesticide use. Due to lack of training, migrant workers do not have adequate preventive measures, especially women, who face health risks associated with exposure to pesticides.
In addition to work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and even cancer associated with the use of chemicals and long-term sun exposure, large machinery, confined spaces, and high-altitude work can be fatal causes. According to statistics from 1992-2005, about 243 agricultural workers were injured every day, and about 5% of them caused permanent damage.
Tractor rollover is the main cause of fatal injuries, with more than 90 deaths per year. In 1992-2000, among the work-related deaths of young workers in the United States, 42% of workers engaged in agriculture. In 2011, 108 young people under the age of 20 died of farm-related injuries.
In recent years, the proportion of women in the US agricultural population has risen sharply, and in terms of job promotion, income, and housing, female workers have to endure treatment that is inferior to male colleagues. Due to the reduced disguised investment in manpower, the stamina of American agriculture has also begun to be lacking. As soon as the situation has been raging, many farms have fallen into bankruptcy.
In response to the recession facing US agriculture, the Trump administration issued the 2018 Agricultural Promotion Act at the end of last year. The bill undertook the 2014 Farm Bill and hopes to “improve” US agriculture in the next five years from subsidies, insurance to the environment, and trade. The question is, Trump’s “US priority” has made the situation of illegal immigrants worse, and American agriculture, which relies heavily on these labors, is still able to sit still?