Smithsonian documents ag innovation

Created: 4/12/13 (Fri) | Topic: Education

An editorial by Erin Anthony

With a nod to farmers and ranchers and all they’ve contributed to our nation’s history and will in the future, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History recently unveiled a new website where the public can upload stories about technologies and innovation that have changed their work lives in agriculture.

Stories are sought on precision farming, foodborne illness tracking, environmental concerns, government practices, crop irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds.

Through the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive, the Smithsonian, in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, is reaching out to farmers, ranchers and American agri-businesses to preserve America’s agricultural heritage and build a collection that reflects modern agricultural practices. Curators are seeking stories, photographs and ephemera to record and preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching.

This new collection of stories, photos and objects will play a role in the “American Enterprise” exhibition, an 8,000-square-foot multimedia experience that will immerse visitors in the dramatic arc of the nation’s story, focusing on the role of business and innovation in the United States from the mid-1700s to the present. The exhibition is scheduled to open in May 2015.

The first donation was announced in January and came from Tennessee farmer Pat Campbell, of Cleburne Jersey Farm, a multigenerational dairy farm founded in the 1870s in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Campbell is providing a selection of photographs and a computer cow tag and reader unit to show the change in dairying from a hand-labor intensive process to a modern computer-run operation. The donation also includes his personal recollections about how changing technology has altered his work life and has led to greater efficiency and safety.

In the early 1940s, Campbell’s grandfather milked his cows in a wood tie-stall barn with vacuum pumps and vacuum-operated pulsation powered by gasoline because there was no electricity on the farm. Fast-forward 50 years and the Cleburne Jersey Farm would have likely impressed Steve Jobs. 

“In 1990, a computerized feed system was added which utilized the individualized cow identification tags that are now on display,” Campbell says, explaining his tag donation. “These tags are passive radio transmitters which are activated when the cow passes within a certain distance of the reader antenna. The processor now controlling the I.D. system also controls the feeder outputs, records milk weights, and keeps records of other pertinent information. This information provides data that makes it possible to monitor each cow, and provide maximum efficiency for grain and forage production in order to increase profit margins.”

Farmers and ranchers themselves might learn a thing or two. For example, how much do you know about Hawaiian cowboys? 

To share your story of agriculture’s innovation and heritage or to check out what others have submitted, go to

Erin Anthony is the editor of FBNews.

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