The truth about daylight saving time and agriculture

For most Oregon ag producers, it’s business as usual as clocks move forward Sunday

Spring forward, fall back. The simple phrase reminds everyone that twice a year the clocks are moved up one hour the second Sunday in March and back one hour the first Sunday in November. That extra hour of daylight at the end of each day starting this weekend will eventually be welcome as the weather warms and people emerge from a winter hibernation. But contrary to popular belief, Daylight Saving Time (DST) was not created for the benefit of agriculture nor does it necessarily work in favor of farmers and ranchers.

“Whether the time change helps or not depends on the specific situation,” says Kathryn Walker, special assistant to the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Either way, our producers adjust to the seasonal time changes with no disruption.”

By some accounts, Benjamin Franklin reportedly first considered Daylight Saving Time in his 1784 essay, "An Economical Project." But it wasn't until 1918 that Congress passed a law to "preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States." Repealed in 1919, President Roosevelt instituted year-round Daylight Saving Time during World War II, when it was referred to as War Time.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. However some states still used it, which led to a number of scheduling difficulties. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was signed by President Johnson. States that wanted an exemption had to pass a state law to do so. (Currently, Hawaii and Arizona are the only states that do not participate in Daylight Saving Time.)

Since then, there have been various modifications to DST, but the biggest change took place in 2007 when it was increased to the equivalent of two months thanks to President Bush’s signing of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Reasons cited for creating Daylight Saving Time include energy conservation, travel safety, and crime prevention. Just how much having daylight extended one hour in the evening is actually leading to safer travel and less crime is debatable. However, studies have shown that energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting homes is directly connected to bedtime. When people go to bed, they turn off lights, televisions, and other appliances, which account for about one-fourth of the daily total use of electricity in the U.S. If bedtime remains the same but there is an extra hour of daylight, the need for artificial light is reduced. A report by the U.S. Department of Transportation in the 1970s estimated that America's electricity usage is reduced by about one-percent while DST is in effect.

Benefits of DST to agriculture are less clear. Most agricultural activities are based on daylight hours as opposed to clock hours. Crops and livestock maintain their schedules regardless of the time reflected on the clock. There always seems to be a job to do light or dark, rain or shine.

"I have never seen a benefit from just changing the clock and not really changing the amount of daylight," says cherry grower Ken Bailey of The Dalles. "I could really get excited about a program that actually takes a few hours of summer daylight and moves them to December and January, but I have never seen anyone actually make that work. The current DST does cause some hardship when it all of a sudden gets dark at your start work 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 agricultural 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 8 or 9 hour day, and then goes home” says Willamette Valley blueberry grower Doug Krahmer. “Now, getting us another hour of daylight in December and January would be nice!”

Grant County cattle rancher and Board of Agriculture member Sharon Livingston 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 thirty—thirty minutes before daylight and thirty 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 makes the job a bit easier and safer as horseback riders and four-wheelers herding the cattle are more visible to oncoming traffic.

Beef cattle is one thing, but how about the impact of changing the clock on dairy cattle? Dairy cows must be milked twice a day regardless of the clock. Once again, the industry – both people and animals – is used to it.

“Daylight saving time has absolutely no impact on our operations,” says Marty Myers, general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms, a Morrow County dairy and producer of potatoes and other vegetable crops. “Our employees have a routine that is not impacted by changes in time, and obviously, plants and livestock could care less. They are impacted by when the sun rises and sets and don’t care what time it is.”

It’s been a popular myth that DST is mostly designed to benefit farmers and ranchers. But there is plenty of evidence that retailers are the ones who gain the most since consumers tend to do more shopping when it’s still light at night. Oil companies also tend to benefit from the extra hour of daylight because statistics have shown it has led to increased leisure driving.

In the end, farmers and their families are not much different than urban folks. A little extra daylight extending into the evening is usually welcome for a variety of reasons. After dark, wet, and often dreary winter conditions, waiting until 8:00 p.m. or later for the sun to go down just seems to put people in a better mood.

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