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History Of Agriculture

Look?How Far We’ve Come

May 31, 2017
by Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

As I think about farming and how it has changed in just the last 100 years, I am dumbfounded and I wonder what our fathers, grandfathers or the early settlers would think today.

At the end of the 19th century, it took 35 to 40 hours of labor in planting, weeding and harvesting just to produce 100 bushels of corn. One hundred years later, producing that same amount took 2 hours and 45 minutes. The farmer had the luxurious ride, air conditioning and listening to music while they worked.

Throughout the history of agriculture, it was a matter of human sweat and animal labor. Oxen, horses and mules pulled plows to prepare the soil and wagons full of the harvest. The rest of the time, backbreaking manual labor was required: planting the seed, tilling or cultivating to keep weeds down, and harvesting the crop itself was all done by hand and most of the family played a part in the operation.

From early on, people with an inventive mind began developing tools to ease the burden on the farmer. Still, farming and hard labor went hand in hand even 50 years ago and productivity remained virtually at a stand still.

With the introduction of the steam powered combustion engine, the stage was set for the dramatic changes that would come in a short amount of time. The tractor can be given the credit for rapid changes and drove the mechanized revolution in farming. Tractors not only pulled plows, but with the invention of the combustion engine, farms were able to grow bigger and bigger.

Tractors pulled the plows, but they also planted and cultivated, mowed hay, baled hay, picked corn, reaped wheat and oats and eventually became so useful no farmer was without one.

As I said earlier, it was the steam engine that came first. These vehicles were behemoths, with some weighing as much as 20 tons. Lumbering slowly along on steel wheels, they often got stuck in wet fields and were virtually useless. A belt drive could be attached to a saw blade and one could saw boards faster than ever before.

It was in 1902 that Charles Hart and Charles Parr introduced the first combustible engine tractor that ran on gasoline. It was much smaller and lighter than the steam engine and could pull plows and operate threshing machines all day on only one tank of gas. These two men are credited with coining the term tractor.

Look at farming today, instead of the 160-acre homesteads, corporate farming is the norm with thousands of acres to take care. As farms have grown, so too has the machinery needed to operate on a large scale. Today planters can plant 36 rows at a time and with the right field conditions takes five to five and one half hours to plant 90 100 acres. That translates into 2,000 acres in 200 hours.

One can only imagine what the pioneers would say if they saw farm equipment today.



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