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Ag blog

A Pawnee County Farmer

The evolution that has occurred on our nation’s farms in the last century boggles the mind. Looking back, mechanization ranks very high on the list of changes.

About a century ago, fossil fuel and internal combustion power units gradually moved the horses and mules to the edge of the field. Fewer people could easily farm additional land and produce more bushels or tons per acre.

The early manufacturers of tractors offered demonstrations and classes on how to operate and maintain this new-fangled equipment. New skills were acquired, and old ones were gradually lost.

Those selling the goods had to convince farmers this transformation was in their best interest. Not everyone was anxious to make the conversion. Many old-timers resisted. Their preference was talking to the animals, listening, feeling, and observing all that was happening. They understood their place in the microcosm.

The heat and noise of a tractor was not to their liking. The skills it took to handle the animals were, indeed, special. The relationship with all of nature was very intimate. Farming was hard work, but a rewarding lifestyle.

Fast forward to the 21st century. A handful of gigantic multinational corporations are doing the same thing with chemicals and seed genetics. Today, you can add this wizardry to the lists of things that can be purchased, instead of practiced: Spray the plants grown from magic seeds with the required chemicals, and abracadabra-you are a farmer.

By the way, you can also let the equipment guide itself and adjust everything on the go. Always read the fine print, warning you not to come into direct physical contact with much of this technology. Just touch the computer screen, not the seed, chemicals, or steering wheel. Follow the prompts. The next step has been determined for you!

Nearly every aspect of farming has been de-skilled over the last 100 years. Now, a distant corporation determines what seeds we may legally plant, what chemicals we use, which direction we travel in the field, and how we harvest.

The transition from farmer to producer is nearly complete. It is very similar to a factory or assembly-line job. Does this explain why the next generation is not very interested in farming? Not everyone wants to grow up to be a tractor jockey.

We no longer focus on transferring skills, just economic assets. Much of the wealth in the countryside has been reduced to physical holdings, namely land and machinery. These items have a title attached and can be bought, sold, or traded, and listed on a financial statement. Is it any wonder our communities continue to shrink?

Now, I grow more grain in a year than my father harvested in a decade. Does this translate to greater skills than my father commanded? That conclusion is doubtful, at best. He repaired all of his machinery, doctored his animals, butchered, raised a garden, grew much of his own fertilizer, and built anything he needed from recycled metal and wood. He spent time with his family, and actually visited his neighbors on a regular basis.

I have unquestionably traded dollars, and many personal skills, for the opportunity to farm more acres in the same amount of time, all under the influence of long distance technology.

Over the last few decades, virtually every rural community has pursued the miracle of economic development coming from outside the community. The standard ideas have included bringing new industry to the area and increasing production and exports.

The only things we have successfully exported would be our natural resources, agricultural products below the cost of production, and young adults.

Our pioneer ancestors brought to this country many crafts and skills, as well as a strong desire to raise a family on the land. They combined the gifts of fertile soil, pure water, cooperation, hard work, and soul to create a local economy and diverse and thriving communities. We must endeavor to identify, recover, share, and grow these vanishing skills. They are the roots that hold in place and nourish the growth, success, and future of our communities.

Last modified Feb. 18, 2010

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