#1 Plows and Pitchforks/ Entre arados

By Matt Bernau


The collection of stuff in my grandfather’s shop always fascinated me, old and unused tools mingled with the brand new and shiny ones. A massive drill press from 1909 had a drive mechanism that consisted of a long flat belt that ran from the motor on the pedestal to the horizontal shaft at the top, whereupon it meshed gears with the vertical shaft, and turned the bit. On the end of the workbench sitting next to that ancient behemoth sat a much smaller drill press with an electromagnet on the bottom, that when energized allowed for horizontal drilling into large pieces of equipment, such as a bulldozer or farm tractor.


Sitting side by side, those drill presses represented the rate of scientific progress that had occurred in less than one hundred years. The agro-technological advance during the Twentieth century included several definable epochs, these included: the draft animal, mechanical, chemical, information, and genetic. The draft animal stage began long before 1900; however, it ended in the United States shortly after WWII. The farm tractor became the prime mover of choice when it eclipsed the utility of the draft horse. Advancements in chemistry provided for the use of fertilizers and pesticides on farms, while the telltale beep of Sputnik paved the way for global positioning systems. Improvements to crop and livestock genetics has been an ongoing process dating back centuries. However, modern biotechnology as a discipline only began about 30 years ago.

Managing technology on a farm or ranch can be a daunting task. Farm tractors, combines, sprayers, and other equipment require regular maintenance. Chemistry is the foundation of pesticides, seed treatments, fertilizers, some feed additives, and a myriad of other inputs. Information quality and quantity has increased since the invention of the telegraph, which gave way to the telephone, broadcast radio, and television. The World Wide Web is available to cell phones, personal computers or similar devices, and can grant you access to information on any subject. Biotechnology is being used to enhance weed, insect, pest, and environmental resistance in plants and to increase livestock productivity.

Are you using the best mix of technology on your farm? Although you may download real time weather radar to make those on-the-go decisions and pore through soil tests and variable rate data in order to synchronize fertilization and planting placement, you may be losing money in other areas. A goal pursued by agricultural scientists and growers alike is that of increasing product yields and profits. Does it make sense not to upgrade that old pasture? Perhaps remove portions of the fence and plant it to a grain crop? All too often, farmers tend to use something in their business either out of nostalgia, or because that’s how we always did it. The utterance of the word ‘efficiency’ continues to be used in conversations about farm management. Engine technology has gotten more efficient since gasoline powered that John Deere 3010, or International Harvester 656. It’s easy to understand why a farmer would want to rake hay, or move snow with the tractor dad had, but how much money is being wasted using it?

According to the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, an IH 656 when running at maximum power, with a 50% pull on the drawbar will consume 3.935 gallons of gasoline per hour. Assuming a price of $3.50 per gallon, it will cost about $13.77 for that hour of work. If the IH 656 was washed and put back in the shed, and a 60 HP diesel John Deere 2440 hooked up to the rake instead, given the same parameters from the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, the fuel consumption would be 2.7 gallons per hour, x $3.89/gallon of diesel = $10.50; a savings of $3.27 per hour, or $32.70 for a 10 hour day.
If you’d like to chat some more about the technological mix being used on your farm, please send me an e-mail at: mmbernau@gmail.com or twitter @veritzombie


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