National Geographic : 1970 Feb
Spinning a morning mist, a helicopter sprays an orange grove for rust mite near Waverly, Florida. Nozzles on the boom eject diluted chlorobenzilate, a pesticide of little danger to man or animals. Wash of the blades drives it down on the fruit. To lessen the hazard of more toxic in secticides, farm scientists experiment with airborne atomizers that spray ultrasmall droplets of undiluted chemicals, reducing the quantity needed. conventional tomato plants; we'd have to de velop a plant to fit a machine. Ideally it would be a vine on which all the tomatoes would ripen at the same time, because, for efficiency, the machine should harvest plant and all on a 'once-through' operation. "The tomatoes should stay ripe on the vine longer," Professor Lorenzen said. "That would give more leeway at picking time. Skins and interiors should be a bit sturdier to withstand machine handling, and there were other requirements." The two men began their work in 1949. Mr. Hanna bred plant after plant. Professor Lorenzen tried dozens of machine designs. Finally, in 1960, a suitable tomato and an experimental machine were ready. J. Bernell Harlan, who with a partner farms 1,500 acres near UC's Davis campus, tested both. "Lots of things went wrong," Mr. Harlan recalled. "Tomatoes got crushed. Too much dirt came up with the vines. Breakdowns were frequent. But we could see possibilities." And just in time. Congress ordered an end to the bracero program which permitted mi grant labor from Mexico to enter the U. S. This had been the major source of field hands. Said Mr. Harlan: "Many tomato growers figured they'd have to give up farming. Can ners made plans to move to Mexico. But by 1965, when the bracero ban went into effect, most of the bugs had been worked out of the harvesting machine, and we had learned what cultivation practices the new tomato plant required. The way this saved the tomato business in California reminds me of those cavalry rescues in Wild West movies." Machines Multiply Farmers' Output Today 90 percent of the state's tomato crop is picked mechanically (pages 152-3). Indeed, mechanization is one of the key inputs of America's agricultural revolution. The aver age farmer has more horsepower working for him than does the average factory employee. 156 It helps him produce with each hour's labor seven times as much as he did 50 years ago. "Machines do replace labor," G. E. Vanden Berg told me when we discussed farm mecha nization in his office at the USDA's Agri cultural Research Center in Beltsville, Mary land.* "However, it is the scarcity of labor that really spurs adoption of machines. For example, tractors didn't get into widespread use until the U. S. Army took horses and mules off the farms to meet the needs of World War I. The corn picker and the hay baler had been around before World War II, but they weren't widely used until farm youths went off to fight and farmers had to have machines to get the work done." Then he described an incredible parade of *See "Beltsville Brings Science to the Farm," by Sam uel W. Matthews, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, August 1953.