Farm Progress

The time to spring forward has passed, but the question remains. Why mess with the clocks?

April 5, 2017

4 Min Read
CLOCK MANEUVERS: The concept of daylight saving time is worth pondering. The Oregon Department of Agriculture offers some insight into the issue.TomasSereda/iStock/Thinkstock

It's a simple matter — spring forward, fall back. Two simple rules that impact almost every state as a reminder that there's clock-changing to do the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November. The extra hour of daylight at the end of each day is eventually welcomed, as the weather warms and people emerge from winter. But while many believe ag is the reason for daylight saving time, in fact the clock change does not necessarily work in favor of farmers and ranchers.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture, in its regular news blog, took on the issue, and as Kathryn Walker, special assistant to the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, noted: "Whether the time change helps or not depends on the specific situation. Either way, our producers adjust to the seasonal time changes with no disruption."

Why it started
Ben Franklin often gets credit for the idea based on a 1784 essay, "An Economical Project." But Congress didn't take up the idea until 1918, when it passed a law to "preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States." It was repealed in 1919.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round daylight saving time during World War II, when it was referred to as "war time." After the war ended in 1945, DST was no longer a law, but some states still used it. This led to a number of scheduling issues. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. States that wanted an exemption had to pass a state law to do so. And today, Hawaii and Arizona are the only two states that do not participate.

There have been modifications to DST, and the biggest change took place 10 years ago, when President George W. Bush lengthened it by two months by signing the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

There are a number of reasons for DST, including energy conservation, travel safety and even crime prevention. Studies have shown that energy use and the demand for electricity to light homes is directly related to bedtime. When people go to bed, they turn off lights, TVs and other appliances, which account for one-fourth of daily total use of electricity in the U.S. If bedtime stays the same but there's an extra hour of daylight, the need for artificial light falls. A U.S. Department of Transportation study from the 1970s estimated that U.S. electricity usage dropped by about 1% while DST is in effect.

Agriculture benefits unclear
For agriculture, the benefits are less clear. Most ag activities are based on daylight hours, as opposed to clock hours. Crops and livestock maintain their schedules regardless of what it says on your watch. There's always work to do — rain or shine, daylight or dark.

Notes Ken Baily, a cherry grower in The Dalles, Ore.: "I have never seen a benefit from just changing the clock and not really changing the amount of daylight …the current DST does cause some hardship when it all of a sudden gets dark at your work start time, and you have to change work schedules. I would guess it is not a real big economic problem, but it sure is annoying when there is no real benefit."

Other ag producers who rely heavily on labor see no pluses or minuses with the time change. "Daylight saving time doesn't really affect us. We are still pruning, and the crew starts work soon after daylight, works an eight- or nine-hour day and then goes home," says Doug Krahmer, a Willamette Valley blueberry grower. "Now, getting us another hour of daylight in December and January would be nice."

Sharon Livingston, a Grant County cattle rancher and state board of agriculture member, agrees that moving the clock up one hour doesn't necessarily help.

"On a ranch, daylight saving time isn't relevant," says Livingston. "Work has to be done, and it isn't accomplished by the clock. It moves forward in respect to the job at hand, and it may be accomplished in the daylight or the dark. Sometimes we refer to it as 'dark 30' — 30 minutes before daylight and 30 minutes after dark."

On the other hand, more daylight in the evening may make it easier and safer to move cattle, especially in public areas. Instead of moving them in the heat of the midday and causing additional stress, the cooler evening temperatures, while it is still light, make the job a bit easier and safer; horseback riders and four-wheelers herding the cattle are more visible to oncoming traffic.

Source: Oregon Department of Agriculture


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