Russ' Vintage Iron

Advances in Agriculture

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a tweet from a farmer. He had a couple photos of his 80-something-year-old grandfather -- one with him posing in front of a 1920s McCormick-Deering 15-30 he had used in the past and another with him dwarfed by a Case IH 620 quad tractor the family uses today in their farming operation.

I don't remember what his exact words were, but they were something to effect that the difference in equipment his grandpa has run during his lifetime is pretty amazing. The grandpa thought the big difference was not in horsepower but with hydraulics, going from a tractor without any to one with advanced hydraulics.

I went back and tried to find that tweet, but without a name, I couldn't locate it. The more I thought about it, the more I found it very interesting.

I think back to my own grandpa and the advances he must have seen during his farming career and lifetime. He was born in 1901, quit school after the eighth grade (roughly 1915) and then farmed until 1968 when he semi-retired as my dad and uncle took over the farm. He helped them on the farm until he passed away in 1980.

He went from farming with horses to the advent of tractors and then saw higher-horsepower tractors with climate-controlled cabs. His generation went from picking corn in the ear by hand to tractor-mounted corn pickers to self-propelled combines.

I have an old ledger book from my great-grandpa that starts in the 1910s and goes through the early 1940s. There are several pages dedicated to keeping track of the various workers and how much corn they picked each day during harvest. The last year recorded in the book when workers picked corn by hand was in the early 1940s. After that point, he must have bought a tractor-mounted corn picker.

Just a few years before my dad was born in 1947, my grandpa bought his only new tractor, a Farmall M, at the end of World War II. Dad has seen tractors advance from a big tractor being an M with maybe 50 horsepower to the large four-wheel-drive tractors of today with around 500 horsepower.

I was born in 1974, a time when tractors and combines where increasing in size -- horsepower-wise -- and began to feature climate-controlled cabs. Of course, we know what today is like.

My three kids were born in 2004, 2009 and 2011. They were born at a time of great technology in agriculture. Just imagine what yet-to-be-invented things they will see during their lifetimes.

So which generation will have seen the biggest change in agriculture during their lifetimes? That is a good question, as we have all seen (or will see) great advances in farm equipment.

If forced to select one generation that has seen the most changes in agriculture over their lifetime, I would still say it was my grandparents' generation who went from farming with horses and limited machinery to farming with tractors. Going from animal power to tractors has to be the largest jump -- short of some great technological advancement in the future.

Have you spent any time around people who have big work horses? I have known a couple different folks who had these beautiful animals. The amount of work they have to put into the horses and the amount of work they get out of them is really not much. This was why farmers didn't farm that many acres back then.

The team of horses had to be fed, of course, and well cared for. They had to be given breaks during the course of the day and not worked too much on hot days. Then, at the end of the day, they had be cleaned up and fed again.

My dad likes to tell a story about the dad of one of his neighbors when he was kid. The neighbor was one of those from my grandparents' generation, but was a few years younger than my grandparents. The neighbor's dad would help on their farm during the 1950s. They had a self-propelled combine with just an operating stand but no cab. They mounted an umbrella on the combine, and the neighbor's father thought it was the greatest thing he had ever seen. He farmed during the days before tractors and self-propelled combines. To him, sitting under an umbrella was an easy day of work.

It's all about perspective.

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