There have been major advances in farming over the years, but what have we lost?
Our son owns our old McCormick International 80 pull type combine, built in the early’50s if not earlier. In August there was an antique combine day held a few miles away and our combine was one of the participants. Each tractor and combine did a length of the field and back in turn and spectators were welcome to look at the machines between their runs. Many, examining the combined grains commented that the results were as good as today’s machines ….. a surprise!
Advances in machinery over the past 70 or more years has probably been the number one advancement in agriculture, allowing fewer farmers to work, seed and harvest far more land than their forefathers ever thought possible.
But in truth, all these modern machines are is bigger, wider, more powerful and with dials and computers than their predecessors. Plus many have gotten to the point where the owner is either incapable or unable by law to repair and maintain them. Is that really an improvement?
For them to be effective and work to their full potential, fence lines and woodlots have been ripped out and fields opened up in grandiose fashion. Gone are the small fields which a team of horses or a small tractor could work in a day. Now we regularly see 100 acre fields, the size of the original farm. Not a tree, bush or fence in sight, no wind protection, no permanent root systems to hold the water or the soil, no corridors for wildlife to travel in or make homes in. Just crop land as far as the eye can see.
Crop rotation seems to have been relegated to the golden two, corn and soybeans although this past year a lot of small grains were also planted — a benefit. We can look from our farm and see land that has continuously been in either corn or soybeans for over forty years. Test the soil, amend the nutrients it still contains and plant what you want. In some places the soil has become little more than a means of holding plants vertical, with the crop depending on man-made fertilizers to grow and produce.
Speaking of soil, there is no respect for what the soil actually is any more, just the drive to make the fields square and bigger to accommodate today’s machinery. If a rocky area is in the way, instead of it being left or used as pasture or a woodlot as was done when the original farm existed, nowadays the rock crusher is called in and it is pulverized into something the machinery can get through and which will hold up the plants. Wet areas are tile drained the heck out of until they will support machinery.
Mentioning plants, despite the ever-growing list of endangered and nearing extinction plants and wildlife, I have not seen one area left to enable anything to live and thrive. I doubt this means that they never existed there. Heavily wooded land is bought, the trees logged out and then the equipment moves in. More square fields.
Many don’t even have respect for trees growing on neighbour’s land. If a branch or two is hanging over the property line it is slashed and broken with an excavator bucket……… then returned to the neighbour’s side along with a couple of buckets of stones!! Farmers being neighbourly also appears to have disappeared too, just like the heritage apple that was slashed.
The only thing that seems to be limiting the size of modern machinery in our area is the width of the roads while hydro lines crossing the road limit the height. Several years ago, when our road was completely rebuilt with little consideration to farm machinery, the engineers and workers commented regularly on the size of the machinery attempting to use the road while the work was ongoing. Equipment had to take turns to cross the culverts under the roads, the barriers either side being too close.
So, in over 70 years, the biggest change has been size, speed and cost. Is it worth it?
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.