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Coming clean on 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 seems to 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.

“It all depends on who you talk to,” says Stephanie Page, special assistant to the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “But whether it helps their operations or causes some inconveniences, Oregon producers have accounted for and have adjusted to the seasonal time changes.”

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 Repealed in 1919, President Roosevelt instituted year-round Daylight Saving Time during World War II, when it was referred to as War Time.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 don't see how there are any savings of energy with Daylight Saving Time," says cherry grower Ken Bailey of The Dalles. "The same amount of work needs to be done and gets done no matter what time it is. I can't think of any advantages of DST. The only disadvantage is that each time the clock is changed, we need to adjust our work hours. Our workers prefer to start as early in the morning as possible. Beginning this weekend, we will need to adjust the start times to match up with available daylight. Mother Nature already provides a gradual progression from winter to summer and the amount of light available. All DST does is break up an otherwise smooth transition to summer or winter."

On the other hand, Baker County farmer and rancher Jan Kerns, sees mostly benefits from Daylight Saving Time.

"We see a big advantage during potato harvest," says Kerns. "Because the nights are becoming cold by late September or early October, our morning 'dig starting time' is set more by the soil and tuber temperatures rather than the clock. The extra hour at the end of the day allows us to dig and pre-load trucks for the beginning run on the next day while having beneficial soil and tuber temperatures. It also makes for a more safe crew working environment to be able to work with natural light rather than artificial light."

Kerns also sees advantages of DST with her cattle operation.

"We try to avoid moving cattle during the heat of the day to avoid stressing them," she says. "Longer evenings with cooler temperatures makes this job easier on the cattle, and safer for visibility by oncoming traffic of the people on horseback and four-wheelers."

Beef cattle is one thing, but how about the impact of changing the clock on dairy cattle? Once again, the industry– both people and animals– is used to it.

"Dairy cattle seem to respond a little bit differently because they might be milked an hour earlier or an hour later once the clock is changed," says Bernie Faber (right), who operates Calgon Dairy in West Salem. "The cows must be milked twice a day regardless. The clock itself doesn't make any difference to the animal. It's just the 12-hour interval they are used to."

Keeping with his annual practice, Faber will move up the early morning milking a half an hour this weekend, from 1:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., to begin the gradual one-hour change due to Daylight Saving Time.

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.

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

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