Farmers are not to blame for daylight saving time. As most of America has turned the clocks back one hour today (Sunday, November 1. 2020), you may have heard (and even believed) a myth about daylight saving time (DST) being created to help farmers. The origins of DST, although part of life in the United States since World War I, are often misunderstood. Follow along as we share some DST facts and why farmers are not to blame.
Daylight saving time was not created to help farmers. The myth’s premises is that more daylight meant more time in the field for farmers. In fact, the opposite is true and this practice was actually lobbied against by the farmers. Farmers are the reason there was not a peacetime daylight saving time until 1966. In fact, farmers have long been the strongest opponent against the change. Farmers did not like DST when it was first introduced and most do not like it to this day. The lost hour of morning light actually made it difficult for farmers to get their crops to market and livestock adjusted poorly to schedule shifts (me too cows, me too!).
Daylight saving time, in this or any other country, was never adopted to benefit farmers; it was first proposed by William Willett to the British Parliament in 1907 as a way to take full advantage of the day’s light. Germany was the first country to implement it, and the United States took up the practice in 1918 upon entering World War I, hypothetically to save energy (it was used again for this purpose for a short time during the oil crisis of the early 1970’s).
Farmers were extremely opposed to having to turn back and forward their clocks. In fact, according to National Geographic, farmers had a lobby that campaigned aggressively against Daylight Saving Time. The time change disrupted their schedules. For the farmer – and the plants and animals – it’s the sun and the seasons that determine the best times to do things. It also made it more difficult to get the most out of their hired help.
Imagine telling a dairy cow used to being milked at 5 a.m. that their milking time needs to move back an hour before the milk truck is coming to do a pickup.
The DST law from WWI was so unpopular with farmers, it was repealed in 1919. DST became a state option until 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted “War Time”, which was year-round daylight saving time. That ended after the war and for many years, cities and counties were allowed to make their own decisions on daylight saving time. That meant several towns in the same state could be on different schedules (talk about confusing!).
DST was not a regular practice until April 12, 1966 when the Uniform Time Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This law established a system of uniform (within each time zone) Daylight Saving Time rules throughout the U.S. and its territories, which included a requirement that clocks be set ahead one hour beginning at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in April and turned back one hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October. States were allowed to exempt themselves as long as the entire state opted out (and some did).
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 changed the beginning of daylight saving time to the second Sunday in March with the ending date being the first Sunday in November. This extension means daylight saving time exists for eight months, while standard time is 4-months long.
Daylight Saving Time begins again Sunday March 14, 2021
So, while we may have “gained” an hour of sleep (hallelujah!) the reasons why we do this whole time shift, are a bit more complicated than you may have thought. And, now you know, farmers are not, and were never, to blame for daylight saving time’s “falling back” and “springing forward.”