Hay Harvesting in the 1940's
In the 1940’s, Robert M. Carter, of the University of Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station, conducted a study of hay harvesting techniques and costs in Vermont. This collection documents that work which resulted in several published studies and...
Show moreIn the 1940’s, Robert M. Carter, of the University of Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station, conducted a study of hay harvesting techniques and costs in Vermont. This collection documents that work which resulted in several published studies and three films showing different hay harvesting techniques. The films capture hay harvesting at a time when there was an increasing use of power machinery, and they show a range of techniques including older methods of hand harvesting, as well as newer tractor driven methods. In Carter’s study he writes, “While nearly half of all farmers contacted relied upon horses for handling some field equipment, combinations of horse- and motor-operated equipment were frequent. Forty-one percent of the farmers owned tractors, and 21 percent had trucks.” These films capture hay harvesting right in the middle of the transition from horse to machine driven equipment. Vermont was still a predominantly agricultural state in the 1940’s and dairy was the largest agricultural sector, so hay harvesting was a subject of significant interest in the state. It was also a subject of importance outside of Vermont. Between 1946 and 1948, at least 28 studies on hay harvesting methods and costs were published (Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, United States Department of Agriculture, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, New Zealand, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Connecticut). The large number of studies demonstrates clearly that the point in time that these films capture was critical in terms of the development of hay harvesting. It captures an agricultural sector in a period of intense study and change. In Vermont, the cost of dairy farming was increasing which resulted in fewer and larger farms. The increased size of dairy herds led to greater requirements for feeding them. In the recently published history of the State of Vermont, the authors note, “Wheat, buckwheat, and oats all but disappeared as cash crops for regional or national markets while farmers focused on raising hay, field corn, and other silage crops.” The authors also note that the greater focus on feed forced farmers to examine productivity and to adopt more mechanized and machine driven techniques. Again, the films document this transitional phase while simultaneously serving as evidence of the increased attention paid to issues of labor and cost-saving techniques. Robert Carter was a rural sociologist interested in labor saving techniques and systems. He studied the different ways that farmers harvested hay because “harvesting the hay crop is hard, tedious, expensive work.” His study investigated the efficiency of various hay harvesting methods. He looked at the following hay harvesting tasks: cutting grass, raking hay, bunching hay, loading hay, necessary travel carrying hay between field and barn, unloading hay, and mowing-away hay. He looked at the time spent on each task, the cost of the equipment used, crew size, idle time, time spent making repairs to equipment, the interrelationships between jobs, and the production yield. His study is thorough and provided benchmarks for farmers to measure their performance against as well as strategies for improving efficiency.