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Transfer of Ideas from Research to Industry: The Case of the United States of America - page 9 / 15





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       UC-Davis non-extension


       UC-Davis extension


       Other universities


   Total universities


Private firms



       Other firms


   Total private firms


Total until 1967


Table 3:  Public and Private Investments in Tomato Harvester R&D until 1967

(from Schmitz and Seckler, 1970, in 1967 USA dollars)

Rasmussen (1968) says that:

“Technological advance in agriculture is not, in the United States today, the result of adopting some one tool or technique.  Rather, it is adopting what has been called a ‘package’ of agricultural technology, ...  It is evident that the successful mechanization of tomato picking depends upon a package of technology, which includes effective machines, specially bred tomatoes, careful irrigation and fertilization, and particular planting techniques.  ... This dependence upon a package of technology is true today for virtually every advance in farming.”

His paper reports that the machine saved fifty-two man-hours of labor per acre.  Many observers feel that this mechanization saved the USA’s processing tomatoes industry from outsourcing to other countries.

However, that opinion is not universal.  Cesar Chavez was the leader of the United Farm Workers union and is viewed by some as the most important civil rights leader in USA history after Martin Luther King, Jr.   Writing in The Nation, Chavez (1978) starts with:  “On February 16, the United Farm Workers appeared before a rare public meeting of the University of California Board of Regents to plead the case of thousands of farm workers who had been displaced by machines developed through U.C. research.  ... U.C. agricultural engineers have been able to develop their machines only with the enthusiastic assistance of other U.C. scientists.

The development of the mechanical tomato harvester aroused political debate about the interaction between the public and private sectors.    Some political activists felt that mechanization research, development, and commercialization unfairly aided industry and large farmers to the detriment of farm workers and small farmers.   Their complaints had a chilling effect on mechanization research within universities and the federal government laboratories.

To this writer, the public investment in mechanization has had a positive outcome in maintaining the competitiveness of USA agriculture.  In commodities where there has been mechanization, there is a general trend for USA agriculture to meet domestic needs and to produce surplus for export.   For commodities where mechanization has been less successful, the USA frequently has to import to meet its needs.   Accordingly, the farm bill currently being

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