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Plant Connections Leader's Guide—Lesson 6: The Future in Plants1

Janice Easton and Deborah J. Glauer 2

Contrary to the image portrayed on television, the lives of American pioneers were not filled with adventure and romance. Until the mid-1600s day to day life in colonial America centered around survival. Old World agricultural techniques did not work in the New World. New crops and methods of production were learned from native Indians. It wasn't until the 1700s that American farmers produced a notable surplus of food. Farmers learned how and what plants to grow. The demand for draft (working) animals lead to advances in livestock management practices like selective breeding. During the 1800s, animal-powered machines improved farm productivity. By the 1850s, John Deere invented a wrought iron plow with a moldboard bottom and a replaceable steel cutting edge. American agriculture was expanding at a frantic rate. Farm mechanization and an improved transportation system encouraged more extensive agriculture.

Mechanization of farm equipment continued to dominate technological innovations between 1900 and 1930. The development of the gasoline powered tractor replaced animal powered machines. By 1940, farmers had completely converted from animal to mechanical power. In addition to mechanization, farmers adopted biological innovations. Hybridization improved crop yields with varieties resistant to disease and drought. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides gained wide acceptance. Chemical fertilizers probably increased yield more than any other single innovation. During the 1950s and 1960s, farmers began to use advanced management techniques. Most farmers began to keep accurate records and employ computerized information systems to help make decisions.

Farmers who use mechanical, chemical, biological, and managerial advances are more productive. New technologies such as genetic engineering and computers will continue to improve yields and efficiency in agriculture.

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1. This document is 4H363, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 1997. Revised January 2015. Reviewed January 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication. For more publications in the 4-H Plant Connections curriculum, go to
2. Originally written by Janice Easton, UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County; and Deborah J. Glauer, UF/IFAS Extension Youth Development Specialist and Plant Science Design Team Leader; additional assistance provided by project assistants Christy Poole and Lynne Schreiber; reviewed and revised by Dr. Sydney Park Brown, associate professor, Environmental Horticulture; Norma Samuel, UF/IFAS Extension urban horticulture agent II, UF/IFAS Extension Marion County; Dr. Paula Davis, UF/IFAS Extension 4-H youth development agent III, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County; and Dr. Joy C. Jordan, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences; UF/iFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #4H363

Date: 2/24/2019


    • Critical Issue: Youth


    • Sarah Hensley