My grandpa Alvin was a full-time farmer and saw a lot of change during his 99 years. We loved to listen to his stories about riding to school on horseback and then using the same horses to pull a binder and wagons full of wheat shocks during summer harvest. Old family pictures document the evolution from threshing machines to pull-type combines and then self-propelled combines. Many farm families likely have similar albums, documenting the advancement in technology and sharing the pride taken each time an advance was made.
I started farming in 1994, just a little before the Round-Up Revolution. My first farm needed quite a bit of care to get it back into production. The north half had been packed by cattle hooves year round and the southern half had been abandoned for a decade or so and was filled with tree sprouts ranging in size from the tiniest sapling to eight inches in diameter. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with log chains pulling trees on the south half so we could get ready to plow, which we
did. My brother and I each pulled a plow … one of us ran four 16” moldboards while the other pulled five 18” moldboards. That was the best way to break that farm out of grass and into grain production at that time.
What took place during the next 12 months truly revolutionized crop production since. Equipment, chemical and seed technology advanced to the point that no-till farming became an important production practice not only in the Ozarks, but around the globe. In fact, my brother purchased a farm a couple of miles away from mine in 1996 and on much of it, we sprayed the grass and weeds and no-tilled his first crops into the sod. Obviously, it took an upgrade in planting equipment, but it sure saved us a lot of time and diesel fuel compared to how we prepared my farm for the first planting.
Since that time, no-till has become a standard practice on many farms, saving labor, fuel and especially top-soil.
Another advancement during my farming career has been the evolution of making hay. As a little boy, the coolest group of guys in my area were the teenagers my father hired on as a hay crew. They were tough, hay hauling, football playing guys who always had funny stories that made little guys laugh! By the time I reached my teenage years, the square baler remained king at our farm, but automated bale wagons that allowed one man to load and stack, had displaced the hay crew. Several years later, we turned to big round bales like many others. If I wanted to move a ton of hay back then, I did it about 75 pounds at a time (the average weight of a square bale) for about 26 times, with both hands and my back. Today, I sit in an air conditioned cab tractor, sipping my coffee, listening to the National Weather Service on the radio and literally move a lever about the size of an ink pen to move 2000 pounds of hay effortlessly.
In the realm of livestock production which southwest Missouri is best known for, the efficiency of producing meat has never been greater. Advancements in genetics and nutrition has allowed us get one pound of grain for every six pounds of feed today, verses one pound for every ten pounds in the 1950s. What I’m most excited about is what good scientific research has told us about the genome of each species. In fact, with a simple blood or hair sample, modern labs can certify parentage of my cattle and tell me which animals will most likely grade choice or prime! I rest assured other species are on the same track.
Electronic technology that has brought us global positioning, variable rate fertilizer spreaders, and now, drones, will continue to revolutionize farm production. I use my smart phone to monitor markets, compare fertilizer prices, gather weather information and even determine what weeds are lurking in my soybeans.
Grandpa Alvin’s stories included such events as receiving the family’s first tractor with rubber tires, the day the Rural Electric Coop installed electricity for the first time and many other advancements. He certainly witnessed a lot of change during his life and it was awesome watching his great-grandsons teach him how to use an iPad shortly before he passed.
As much change as we’ve seen in the past 70 years, and especially the past couple of decades, the advancements yet to come will likely dwarf those of the past. I’m excited about what the future of agriculture has in store! I’m sure we’ll all adapt and be grateful for the new things to come!