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Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper

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Agriculture has been a staple of human society since around 9000 BCE during the Neolithic Era, when humans began developing and cultivating their own food.

For centuries, food production was a slow, tedious process until the invention of agricultural machinery. One such invention was the reaper. Until its time, small grains were harvested by hand, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves.

While a few had unsuccessfully attempted to create a similar machine, it was Cyrus McCormick who would ultimately be credited with the invention of the first commercially successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s invention was a horse-drawn machine used to harvest wheat, a combination between a chariot and a wheelbarrow. He had joined together the earlier harvesting machines into a single, timesaving one. His reaper allowed producers to double their crop size, capable of cutting six acres of oats in just one afternoon. In contrast, it would have taken 12 workers with scythes to do the equivalent in the same amount of time.

McCormick had simply followed in his father’s footsteps. Growing up in Rockbridge County, Virginia, his father had also created several farming implements and even worked to invent a mechanical reaper of his own.

McCormick would patent his invention in July 1834, a year after Obed Hussey had announced the making of a reaper of his own. In 1837, McCormick began manufacturing his machine on his family’s estate.  

In 1847, McCormick recognized Chicago as the future of the agricultural machinery industry. The railroad to Galena was nearing completion, the Illinois and Michigan Canal would soon be open, and a telegraph link to the east was coming. So, in 1847, McCormick, together with his partner and future Chicago mayor Charles M. Gray, purchased three lots on the Chicago River and built a factory where they would produce the reaper. It was the first of many industrial companies that would make their way to the area, making Chicago an industrial leader.

McCormick wasn’t done yet. He purchased an additional 130 acres in Chicago in 1871, but the Great Fire of 1871 threatened to destroy his company when the factory burned. It was his young wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who pushed the company forward when she went to the site just days after the fire and ordered the rebuilding of the factory. By 1880, McCormick was the largest machinery producer in Chicago and employment reached 7,000, a whopping fifth of the nation’s total.

McCormick joined the companies of Deering and Plano to form the International Harvester Company in 1902. At its height, the company controlled more than 80 percent of grain harvesting equipment in the world. While the Great Depression would hit Chicago’s agricultural industry hard, McCormick’s invention of the reaper forever changed the face of agriculture.

Resources

Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/29.html

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from https://www.invent.org/inductees/cyrus-mccormick

Although the author has made every effort to ensure the informa­tion in this article is accurate, this story is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substi­tute for historical documents.

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Scrapie

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Barry Whitworth, DVM
Senior Extension Specialist Department of Animal & Food Science Ferguson College of Agriculture

Scrapie is a chronic, progressive disease of the central nervous system that affects sheep and goats. Scrapie is the oldest of the group of neurodegenerative diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). Some of the other TSE are Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy known as mad cow disease, Chronic Wasting Disease which is found in deer, and Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease which is found in humans. TSE are protein-misfolding diseases that lead to brain damage and are always fatal.

The cause of Scrapie is not completely understood, but evidence indicates that an infectious protein referred to as a prion is responsible for the disease. These infectious prions cause damage to the normal prion proteins found in the brain. The mis-folding of the proteins lead to brain damage and the presentation of clinical signs of the disease. Prions are very resistant to destruction, so once in the environment, they are difficult to remove.

Scrapie is believed to primarily be transmitted by the oral route. Typically, lambs and kids might ingest the prion when they come in contact with the infectious agent through placentas and birthing fluids from infected ewes and does. Older animals may be exposed to the prions this way as well. Colostrum and milk are also sources of prions. Other secretions such as urine, feces, saliva, and nasal secretions may contain infectious prions as well. Once ingested, the prions cross into the lymphoid system. The prions will incubate for a long time usually two to five years before entering the nervous system.

Genetics plays a part in Scrapie infections. Certain breeds are more susceptible to the disease due to genetic composition. Genetic testing is available for producers to help them select breeding stock with resistant genes.

Clinical signs most commonly associated with Scrapie are intense pruritis, ataxia, and wasting. Early in the disease, small ruminant producers may notice slight changes in behavior with sheep and goats infected with Scrapie. Initially, animals may have a staring or fixed gaze, may not respond to herding, and may be aggressive towards objects. As the disease progresses, other clinical signs noticed are progressive weight loss with normal appetite, incoordination, head tremors, and intense pruritis. In the terminal stages, sheep are recumbent and may have blindness, seizures, and an inability to swallow. Once initial clinical signs are notice, death usually occurs in one to six months.

The gold standard for postmortem (dead animals) diagnosing of Scrapie is the use of immunohistochemistry test on brain tissues as well as microscopic examination of brain tissue for characteristic TGE lesions. Live animal diagnosis is possible by testing lymphoid tissues from the third eyelid and rectal mucosa scrapings.

There is no treatment available for Scrapie, so prevention is key to controlling the disease. Following biosecurity protocols is a good starting point for preventing Scrapie. Part of the biosecurity plan is to maintain a closed flock and only buy replacement animals from certified Scrapie free flocks. Producers should limit visitors’ contact with their animals. Sanitation is important in lambing and kidding areas. Manure and bedding contaminated with birthing fluids and placentas should be disposed of properly. Genetically resistant animals should be used for breeding to produce genetically resistant offspring.

It should be noted that there is a novel or atypical form of Scrapie. This disease may also be referred to as Nor98 variant. This atypical version of Scrapie was initially found in Norway. It has been diagnosed in the United States as well. The disease is usually only found in a single old animal in the flock or herd. The brain lesions in atypical Scrapie are different from classical Scrapie. Currently, experts believe that natural transmission of atypical Scrapie is not likely.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been battling Scrapie for decades. According to recent information from the USDA, the United States (US) is close to accomplishing eradication of the disease. In order for the United States to achieve Scrapie free status, no sheep or goats can test positive for classical scrapie for seven years and a certain level of testing needs to be done each year that represents the sheep and goat populations within the country. Small ruminant producers can assist the USDA eradication efforts by contacting the USDA when they have an adult sheep or goat exhibiting clinical signs of Scrapie or an adult animal dies or is euthanized. Producers should contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall at 405-522-6141 or the USDA Veterinary Services at 405-254-1797. This will aid the USDA in reaching sampling testing goals. There is no charge for the collection or testing of the samples for scrapie. 

Scrapie is a disease that needs to be eliminated from the US. Once eliminated, the US will have additional export markets for sheep and goat products. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service has an informative fact sheet on Scrapie. Please visit the Local County Extension Office and asked for fact sheet VTMD-9135 or producers may view the fact sheet online at  https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/scrapie.html. Also, the USDA National Scrapie Eradication Program website has valuable information as well at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/sheep-and-goat-health/national-scrapie-eradication-program

References Cassmann, E. D., & Greenlee, J. J. (2020). Pathogenesis, detection, and control of scrapie in sheep. American journal of veterinary research81(7), 600–614. https://doi.org/10.2460/ajvr.81.7.600

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Avian Influenza Update

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Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a problem in commercial and backyard poultry in the Unites States (US) with over 60 million birds affected. Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, 879 flocks (347 commercial and 532 backyard flocks) have been confirmed with HPAI in the US. Many wild birds and mammals have been affected as well. Five backyard flocks and one commercial flock have been confirmed with HPAI during this outbreak in Oklahoma. The latest was detected in a backyard flock in Carter County on October 16, 2023. For a complete listing of domestic birds, wild birds, and mammals affected by HPAI visit 2022-2023 Detection of High Path Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/2022-hpai.

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is classified as either Low Path Avian Influenza (LPAI) or HPAI depending on the virulence. This virus infects many food producing birds such as chickens and turkeys while it commonly resides in migratory waterfowl and many other wild birds. Most often ducks, geese, and wild birds harbor the virus in the intestinal tract without having any clinical signs of the disease. The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions from infected birds. Poultry can be infected with the virus when they come in direct contact with infected birds or consume feed that is contaminated with the virus. The virus can be spread indirectly through objects like shoes, clothes, or equipment contaminated with the virus.

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the severity of the virus and the organ system affected. LPAI usually results in no clinical signs or only mild problems. However, HPAI has many different clinical signs. Death with no symptoms is a common finding. Respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharges may be seen. Depression resulting in loss of appetite and decrease consumption of water may occur. Egg production may be impacted with a decrease in production and/or softshell or misshapen eggs. A bird’s comb, wattle, head, eyelids, and hocks may swell. Combs and wattles may turn purple. Nervous system disorders including tremors, incoordination, and unusual positions of the head may be seen. Diarrhea has been reported in some cases. For more information about clinical signs visit Defend the Flock-Signs of Illness at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/outbreak-illness/outbreak-illness.

For commercial and backyard poultry flocks, the best defense against HPAI is a sound biosecurity program. Biosecurity is the development and implementation of management procedures intended to reduce or prevent unwanted threats from entering a flock. The protocol is designed to reduce or prevent the spread of unwanted threats through the flock and eliminate any unwanted pathogens that may enter the flock. Lastly, a biosecurity plan is designed to prevent threats from infecting neighboring poultry operations. Biosecurity can be broken down into four basic areas which include traffic, isolation, sanitation, and husbandry.

The first line of defense should be limiting the traffic that enters the area. Poultry operations should have a perimeter buffer area (PBA). For backyard poultry operations, this could be a fence. In commercial operations this may be a fence or road that surrounds the facility. All entry points need to be clearly marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. In a study by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluating factors associated with introduction of HPAI in layer farms in the US, the presence of a gate was found to be protective against the introduction of the virus. Gates with signage may encourage people to follow biosecurity protocols.

Inside the PBA, a line of separation (LOS) needs to be established. The LOS isolates the birds from possible sources of infections. The LOS is usually the walls of the poultry building plus the entry point.  No person should cross this line without following proper biosecurity protocols. Producers should provide visitors with clean coveralls and disposable shoe covers. Visitors should wash their hands before and after visiting the facility. All visitors should dip their shoes in a disinfectant solution when entering and exiting the facility. Also, no other animals, wild or domestic should cross the LOS.

Sanitation is one of the most important parts of a biosecurity plan. All equipment, feeders, waterers, and buildings need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. First, all fecal material and dirt should be physically removed. Next, disinfectants must be applied and allowed sufficient contact time to work properly. Foot baths need to be properly maintained. The property outside the poultry house should be kept mowed and cleaned. Failure to keep the grass cut and/or to promptly clean up feed spills is associated with HPAI.

Poultry producers must also practice good animal husbandry. Flocks need to be observed several times per day. Producers need to collect and dispose of dead birds frequently. Producer should know the clinical signs of a sick bird. Any unusual increases in sick or dead birds should be reported to proper authorities. Backyard producers have several options. They can contact their veterinarian or Oklahoma State University County Extension office. They can also contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian at 405-522-6141.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) has guidelines for a biosecurity protocol. Commercial and backyard poultry producers should examine the NPIP 14 standards of the biosecurity protocol. Any areas that do not meet the standards need to be addressed. The NPIP biosecurity audit form can be found at http://www.poultryimprovement.org/documents/AuditForm-2018BiosecurityPrinciples.pdf. Additional sources for backyard poultry producers can be found at the USDA Defend the Flock website at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov, Protect Your Poultry From Avian Influenza at  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/bro-protect-poultry-from-ai.pdf or Oklahoma State University fact sheet Small Flock Biosecurity for Prevention of Avian Influenza ANSI-8301.

Avian Influenza is a major threat to the US and Oklahoma poultry industry. It is the responsibility of all commercial and backyard poultry producers to do everything in their power to protect this industry.

Reference 

Swayne, D.E. and Halvorson, D.A. 2003 Influenza. In Y. M. Saif (ed.). Diseases of Poultry, 11th ed. Iowa State Press: Ames, Iowa, 135-160.

Green, A. L., Branan, M., Fields, V. L., Patyk, K., Kolar, S. K., Beam, A., Marshall, K., McGuigan, R., Vuolo, M., Freifeld, A., Torchetti, M. K., Lantz, K., & Delgado, A. H. (2023). Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States,

2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in veterinary science10, 1229008.

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From Plow to Plentiful: The Most Important Inventions in Agricultural History

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Agriculture is the foundation of human civilization. Throughout history, the quest for more efficient and productive methods of farming has led to the invention of countless tools and technologies. These inventions have not only revolutionized agriculture but have also played a pivotal role in shaping societies and economies. In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into some of the most important inventions related to agriculture that have had a profound and lasting impact on the way we grow and harvest food.

The Wheel and Axle: Unlocking Mobility and Productivity

The wheel and axle, one of the earliest inventions in human history, had a significant impact on agriculture. This invention, which dates back to around 3500 BC, revolutionized transportation, making it possible to move heavy loads and machinery more efficiently. In agriculture, the wheel and axle played a crucial role in the development of carts, wagons, and plows, enabling farmers to transport goods and cultivate larger areas of land.

The Plow: Cultivating the Earth’s Riches

The plow is arguably one of the most iconic agricultural inventions. Its origins trace back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3000 BC. The plow transformed agriculture by allowing farmers to dig deep furrows in the soil, turning it over and aerating it. This improved soil quality, making it more fertile and suitable for planting a wider variety of crops. The plow’s evolution from simple wooden implements to more sophisticated steel plows in the 19th century drastically increased the efficiency of farming.

Irrigation Systems: Mastering Water Management

Irrigation systems are a testament to human ingenuity in harnessing water for agriculture. The earliest known irrigation systems date back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, around 6000 BC. These systems, which transported water from rivers to fields, allowed farmers to cultivate crops even in arid regions. Over time, irrigation methods have become increasingly sophisticated, incorporating canals, pumps, and drip irrigation systems, ensuring a consistent and controlled water supply for agriculture. Today, modern irrigation practices help feed billions of people around the world.

The Seed Drill: Sowing the Seeds of Precision

The seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull in the early 18th century, represented a leap forward in precision agriculture. Before its invention, seeds were sown by hand, resulting in uneven distribution and often wasteful planting practices. Tull’s seed drill, powered by horses, allowed farmers to sow seeds at a consistent depth and spacing, significantly increasing crop yields. This invention laid the groundwork for modern agricultural practices, emphasizing efficiency and precision in planting.

The Cotton Gin: Revolutionizing Textile Production

While not directly related to food production, the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, had a profound impact on agriculture in the American South. This revolutionary machine automated the process of separating cotton fibers from their seeds, increasing the efficiency of cotton production by a factor of 50. The cotton gin’s success led to the widespread cultivation of cotton as a cash crop, shaping the economic landscape of the Southern United States.

The Mechanical Reaper: Harvesting the Bounty

The mechanical reaper, invented by Cyrus McCormick in the 1830s, mechanized the labor-intensive process of harvesting grain crops such as wheat. This invention featured a cutting mechanism that could efficiently harvest crops at a much faster rate than manual labor. The mechanical reaper played a pivotal role in increasing agricultural productivity during the 19th century and contributed to the expansion of agriculture in the United States.

The Steam Engine: Powering Progress

The steam engine, invented by James Watt in the late 18th century, revolutionized agriculture by providing a reliable source of power for various farming machinery. Steam engines were used to drive pumps for drainage, power threshing machines, and even locomotives for transporting agricultural goods to markets. The introduction of steam power marked a significant shift from human and animal labor to mechanical power, greatly increasing agricultural efficiency.

The Refrigerated Railcar: Expanding Food Distribution

In the late 19th century, the refrigerated railcar, often credited to Gustavus Swift, transformed the way food was transported and distributed. Before its invention, the transportation of perishable goods was a major logistical challenge. Refrigerated railcars allowed for the long-distance shipment of fresh produce, meat, and dairy products, opening up new markets and ensuring a more reliable food supply for urban populations.

Pesticides and Herbicides: Protecting Crops

The development of synthetic pesticides and herbicides in the 20th century marked a significant milestone in agriculture. These chemical compounds, such as DDT and glyphosate, helped farmers combat pests and weeds that threatened their crops. While these chemicals have played a vital role in increasing agricultural productivity, their use has also raised concerns about environmental impact and health risks, leading to ongoing debates and regulatory measures.

The Green Revolution: Feeding the World

The Green Revolution, which began in the mid-20th century, represented a coordinated effort to improve crop yields through the development of high-yielding varieties of staple crops, improved irrigation techniques, and the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides. This agricultural revolution, led by scientists like Norman Borlaug, played a pivotal role in increasing food production worldwide, helping to avert widespread famine and addressing the food needs of a growing global population.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Customizing Crops

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) represent a more recent innovation in agriculture. GMOs are organisms whose genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. In agriculture, this technology has been used to develop crops with traits such as resistance to pests, tolerance to herbicides, and improved nutritional content. GMOs have sparked considerable debate over their safety, environmental impact, and ethical considerations.

Precision Agriculture: The Digital Age of Farming

The digital revolution has brought agriculture into the realm of big data and advanced technology. Precision agriculture, also known as smart farming, leverages sensors, GPS technology, drones, and data analytics to optimize various aspects of farming, including planting, irrigation, and crop management. This data-driven approach allows farmers to make informed decisions, minimize resource wastage, and increase crop yields, ultimately contributing to sustainable and efficient agriculture.

Throughout history, agriculture has been a dynamic and ever-evolving field driven by innovation and necessity. The inventions discussed in this article represent a sampling of the many remarkable contributions that have shaped the way we grow and harvest food. As we confront contemporary challenges, such as climate change, food security, and sustainable agriculture, the spirit of innovation continues to drive the development of new technologies and approaches that will shape the future of agriculture. Whether through advancements in genetic engineering, digital agriculture, or sustainable practices, the journey of agricultural innovation is far from over. As we look ahead, we can expect agriculture to continue to adapt and transform, ensuring that the world’s growing population has access to safe, nutritious, and abundant food.

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