Hopefully, everybody has pretty much adjusted to “springing forward.” Losing an hour in the spring and gaining it back in the fall with all the attendant moaning and groaning is a relatively recent phenomenon and not really because of the time change itself but because of how our view of time has changed. For most of the history of humankind time wasn’t a fixed but relative idea. Why? Several reasons.
• For much of history we were hunter gatherers who transitioned to domesticated livestock and animal agriculture. What mattered was time in a broad sense, not hours, minutes and seconds but cycles of the moon, seasons, the time for animal gestation and crop development. And this time didn’t “bend” to our whims.
• “Work days,” however, were quite flexible for most of history because your ability to work was tied to the availability of useable light. In agriculture, the length of the work day was tied to the rising and setting of the sun. Fortunately, longer days tended to coincide with the time of the most intense work,
• The idea of a day being divided up into hours is only several thousand years old. With the development of sedentary agriculture and the ability of fewer people to produce surplus food to feed many, villages, towns, and then cities were possible with all that goes along with it. This allowed a disconnect from the seasonality of agriculture as work was done indoors and irrespective of natural light as artificial light was developed. However, artificial light such as oil lamps and candles was expensive and not to be wasted. But even then, for most “telling time” accurately was a properly aligned sundial, so time was told only when the sun was above the horizon and on clear days for most. And the “time” changed every day as the position of the sun in the sky changed every day. But for agriculture much of this didn’t really matter.
• Our modern need for precise time keeping arose from the need to accurately navigate across oceans using celestial navigation. Again agriculture marched to its own time.
• Finally, highly sophisticated timekeeping, using atomic clocks, is an integral part of modern crop production. Why in a moment. Animal agriculture still pretty much keeps time with natural cycles. Where animal agriculture does keep modern time is in the area of food safety and processing. Finally, why does crop production agriculture now keep perhaps the most precise time in the world?
• Precision farming now makes production agriculture some of the most precise time keepers in the world. Whether yield mapping fields or using variable rate chemical application and grid soil sampling, production agriculture uses GPS to georeference data to a known fixed locations. This uses the speed of light for transmission of signals so time must be measured to a precision of better than 0.000001 seconds.
So as in most things, agriculture has a foot in two worlds. And it ignores those worlds and the way they keep time at their own economic peril.