THE HIGH-TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION is not normally associated with farming. Yet some of the most impressive advances in automation are occurring in agriculture. While public attention of late has focused on the effects of technology displacement on the manufacturing and service sectors, an equally profound technology revolution is changing the nature of modern agriculture and, in the process, raising serious questions about the future of farm labor in countries around the world. Nearly half the human beings on the planet still farm the land. Now, however, new breakthroughs in the information and life sciences threaten to end much of outdoor farming by the middle decades of the coming century. The technological changes in the production of food are leading to a world without farmers, with untold consequences for the 2.4 billion who rely on the land for their survival. The mechanization of agriculture began more than one hundred years ago. In 1880 it took more than twenty man-hours to harvest an acre of a wheat land. By 1916 the number of man-hours was reduced to 12.7. Just twenty years later only 6.1 man-hours were required.2 The productivity gains in agriculture were so swift and effective that by the late 1920S economic instability was no longer fueled by crop failures but, rather, by overproduction. The mechanization of the agricultural sector was heralded as a triumph of industrial society. One leading agriculturalist of the day boasted, “We no longer raise wheat here, we manufacture it. … We are not husbandry men, we are not farmers. We are producing a product to sell. The technolOgical changes in American agriculture transformed the country from a largely agricultural society to an urban, industrial


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