PHOTO: In the Cab During Planting by United Soybean Board on flickr. CC BY 2.0
October 18, 2011

A farm surrounds our 3-acre lot. Hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans, plus more of pasture and woods. It belongs to my nephew, who farms it with his brother and father who have neighboring farms and rented land in the area. Ironically, while I write about large-scale agriculture all the time, I seldom get the chance to experience how technology has changed large commercial operations.

I grew up and farmed on a diversified operation that was large in its day, but would be considered midsize to small today. Writing about large and small farm machinery, agricultural technology and all sorts of farm inputs is what I do. The problem is that I view large-scale, high-tech products and practices for the most part done from my office chair.

I do all sorts of things with my ATV, I borrow smaller tractors and equipment that works with my 120 acres of field and forest, and I spend time in my shop. What I don’t do is spend time in large tractor or combine cabs.

When my brother and his son invited me to ride along in the field the other day, I jumped at the opportunity. Writing would have to wait. It was time to get some on-the-job training. Boy, was I in for an education. It was one thing when my nephew put me behind the wheel of the new 150+ horsepower tractor his co-farming brother had just bought. It was something else riding in the buddy seat of the combine as my older brother piloted it through the field.

I know how technological combines have become. I hadn’t thought about the complications of watching three monitor screens, leveling the header as it stripped the ears from the rows ahead, checking the level of the grain in the 350-bushel grain hopper and glancing at the moisture and yield monitors. All of that as he seemed to fly through the field at 8 to 10 mph. Farming isn’t what it used to be, and I need to spend more time in cabs.

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