Daylight saving time or not, even retired dairy farmers rise early

Daylight saving time has been controversial throughout history, but some people are up with the sun regardless of clock changes.

Daylight saving time or not, farmers often get to see the sunrise. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

A dairy farmer who retired 10 years ago because his knees wore out said that he still awakens at 4:30 a.m. out of habit.

The promise that comes with the rising sun creates a sunny attitude. With daylight saving time, we must wait longer for daylight.

“I wish they wait to move the clocks ahead until the end of April,’’ he said. “I know people like the longer daylight hours at night, but you can’t play golf or fish in March, anyway.’’

Lawmakers in several states have discussed making daylight saving time year-round. Among their reasons is that statistics show that people suffer more heart attacks and strokes because of sleep disruptions, and vehicle accidents increase on days when clocks are moved forward or backward.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced a U.S. Senate bill to make daylight saving permanent across all time zones. Although the legislation hasn’t moved through the Senate, many state officials support it. Bills that would make it permanent are alive in the Iowa and Minnesota legislatures but failed in North Dakota. However, Congress must OK the change.


Daylight saving was controversial when the idea was new.

Benjamin Franklin was the first American to urge moving clocks forward in the 18 th century, but it wasn’t until World War I — when coal threatened energy supplies in the United States and Europe — when it was adopted.

While industry and city dwellers liked it, farmers protested that it would mess with milk production and harm crop yields. To some Americans, it was a conspiracy of sorts to entwine the United States with European affairs.

The time change was revoked a few months after World War I ended but returned when the United States entered World War II. Although it continued until 1966, the federal government allowed states to make their own choices.

That meant states and locations within states got to set their own time changes, which caused confusion. In Minnesota, some communities used daylight saving time and others did not. Minneapolis and St. Paul started it at different times, which complicated business dealings.

Iowa had 23 different time zones, which included differing times in neighboring counties and communities. North Dakota didn’t use daylight saving time in 1966 but has otherwise adopted it for every year since 1918.

The problem was solved in 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act.

President Richard Nixon shook up the country in 1974 when he made daylight saving permanent for 18 months during OPEC’s oil embargo that resulted from U.S. support for Israel during its war with Arab nations. The per-barrel price of crude oil skyrocketed from $2.90 in ’73 to $11.65 the next year.


The energy situation was dire — for a time, gasoline was rationed to offset long lines as gas stations, the national highway speed limit was reduced, and other restrictions were put in place.

The cost of fertilizers and other crop inputs soared, along with shortages and higher prices for basic products that farmers depended on. Nixon responded to inflationary worries in the overall economy by placing a freeze on wages and prices. The move had a negative impact on grain and livestock prices.

Nixon, when he signed the law, said it would produce “energy saving in electrical power generation and the unnecessary use of electric lights.’’ It was, to conservatives who sought smaller government, a horrible decision.

Those who oppose year-round daylight are heartened by a study conducted by the 2008 National Bureau of Economic Research that shows that instead of saving energy, it increases usage by 1%.

In any case, retired dairy farmers are most likely to continue waking up at 4:30 a.m. — perhaps out of long-ago needs to finish milking before the hauler arrived or just because seeing the sunrise creates healthy optimism.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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