It is interesting to look at the land in our rural areas and remember the various uses that were important to land owners as times changed.
For example, the low-lying part of Sheffield Mills inside the “square” (Bains, Middle Dyke, 221 and Black Hole roads) was once covered by a man-made lake that provided power to the mills that gave our community its name.
Then the steam engine was invented and became a more efficient method of powering the mills. The mills pond was drained, ditched and became meadow land. The reason that this newly-reclaimed land was valued so highly was its ability to produce excellent crops of hay. Horses needed hay and oats as they were the main power source on farms and on the roads.
Tractors didn’t take over until after the Second World War. There was a bit of a move toward farm mechanization before the war, but then all the factories focused on production for the war effort from 1939 to 1945.
Then came the time when gasoline was very cheap and the machines (including cars and trucks) powered by it took over. Home-produced fuel for horses and oxen was not needed anymore and the land used to produce it was put to other uses or allowed to sit idle.
In Sheffield Mills, the landowners soon found that the meadows would not support tractors used then to produce other crops that were being tried, now that the demand for hay was falling drastically. Most of that land is now home to wildlife, which is probably the best use for it.
Meanwhile, the upland fields on the farms stopped growing oats, which were no longer needed for muscle-powered fuel, and now produce a wide range of vegetable crops and animal feed. Most of the corn and soybeans that we see from the highway is used for poultry feed on dairy farms.
Farms with large animals, except for dairy cows and pleasure horses, have just about disappeared from the scene.
What will happen to the farmland next? It will depend on world prices for various crops and what gets invented next. There is a lot of research going on (despite Prime Minister Harper’s withdrawal of support for research and science in general) to develop energy crops that will be renewable and will also be used as feedstock for products under development.
I don’t think that wildlife will be driven out of our former meadow lands and the land used for new crops but I’ve learned that one should never say never.