April 29, 2012

Tractors on the move

If you have driven the back roads lately, you will have noticed that farmers everywhere have been taking advantage of the early spring weather.

Many acres of hay have been planted and some of it is already showing a green haze of growth.

Some farms have even started tillage of corn ground in preparation for planting. The spring tillage and planting season is one of the most important times of the year and, until this past week's rain, many farmers were beginning to worry about being too dry — a big change from last spring!

The rate at which a modern farmer can plow, plant and harvest has been increased greatly by technological advancements in the farm machinery required. As the size and scale of local farms has increased, the equipment needed to do the work in a timely manner has also increased in size and capacity.

In the past 60 years, farms have transitioned from horses and small, gasoline tractors to immense four-wheel drive articulated tractors that can do many times the work producing more crops, in less time, using fewer inputs than ever before.

In the 1940s, my father grew up on a local dairy farm and remembers still using horses to mow and rake hay, pull wagons and do routine chores. Much of the powered equipment, such as hay balers and corn choppers, was not pulled into the field but remained stationary, with the crops being brought to the machine for processing. Gradually over the following decades, farm machinery evolved into what we see today.

Farm safety has been a concern for many years. Agriculture in the United States is one of the most hazardous industries, only surpassed by mining and construction. Older tractors and farm machinery had few or no provisions for safety. Often tall and narrow, they had a higher center of gravity and were more likely to tip or flip over.

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