It was midnight on June 30, 1972.
Farmer Brown had had a tough day, baling, loading and unloading square bales of hay for his cows.
He had spent the morning plowing his soybeans with the rolling cultivators of his Farmall 706 tractor, then sprayed his cotton against boll weevils with methyl parathion using his International Harvester 770 tricycle sprayer.
Two of his sows were to have pigs, so he got them out of their mud holes and into the shed he used as a farrowing pen. After a late supper of fresh garden vegetables and fried chicken, the chicken being fed by the arrogant little rooster who had always tried to stimulate him when he went to the chicken coop to fetch the eggs, he settled down to watch Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
His wife woke him up at midnight and sent him to bed, where in Rip Van Winkle fashion he slept for 50 years. When he woke up, the world had changed. His farm had changed.
Over the past 50 years, the world has really changed, and so has agriculture.
The little story above will bring back memories for those of us who have walked around the block once or twice. The younger generation of farmers will just say “huh? »
I’ve been asked about the five biggest changes in agriculture over the past 50 years, and I have to admit it’s hard to narrow down the list to five. I’ll try.
One of the big changes since the 1970s is the size of farms.
In the 1920s, the average farm size was 64 acres. Thousands of small family farms dotted the countryside. By the 1970s, many of these small farms had disappeared, and after the Great Agricultural Recession of the 1980s, small farms became rare.
In the financial environment of 21% ownership, there was a cleansing of the agricultural landscape in the 1980s. Farmers went bankrupt by the thousands, many farms were lost to banks and too many farmers in distress committed suicide.
Today, statistically speaking, the farm size is pegged at around 195 acres, which is a bit misleading.
In the 1970s, there were mostly small and medium-sized farms, with some large ones. Today, there are many large farms and many very small farms, but few medium-sized farms.
Most modern full-time farms operate 1,000 acres or more in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties. Medium-sized farms have been absorbed by large farms, and very small farms or hobby farms are on the increase.
Off-farm incomes have increased dramatically and this is the only way for small farms to remain viable. The farmer who in the 1970s lived decently off a few hundred acres would barely have survived in today’s farming world. It’s all about economies of scale.
Another big advancement is the rise of genetically engineered crops that can resist insect damage, fight disease, and tolerate herbicides that would have killed both the weed and the crop 50 years ago.
The first genetically modified cotton was introduced in 1996, followed by GMO corn and soy.
Farmers today could not survive without them. Neither does the environment.
In the 1970s, cotton was sprayed with strong insecticides every five to seven days to ward off boll weevil and bollworm. Today, farmers can spray cotton three times for insects with highly targeted insecticides.
The boll weevil is gone, eradicated by the advent of the boll weevil eradication program, one of the greatest achievements of the agricultural revolution. The environment is on the minds of almost every farmer today and genetics has played a major role in achieving this goal.
Farmer Brown wouldn’t have known what to make of the modern miracles of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and cell phones.
Almost every farmer in the region uses GPS systems in one way or another, whether it’s running auto-steering on their tractors, mapping soil samples, applying variable-rate fertilizers, keeping spray and harvest their crops efficiently.
We can all appreciate the convenience of cell phones. Most farmers would be lost without them. They save time, give weather updates, keep records for us, connect to the internet for information we once had to get by car to a payphone, and remind us to get out of farming on time. to go to our kids’ little league games.
Farmer Brown should have hoped he was in a good mood the day he planted his crops so the rows were straight. Plowing crooked rows can be very stressful! GPS solved this problem. He also should have gone to the local public telephone if the tractor broke down, or if he needed more seed or fertilizer, or if he cut his finger.
Finally, the size and cost of today’s equipment would have come as a shock to Farmer Brown.
He used tractors of 100 horsepower or less. He planted with four-row equipment, sprayed eight rows at a time, and harvested 20 acres of cotton on good days.
Today, 250 horsepower tractors are common. Planters plant 12 rows at a time on many farms. Sprayers can cover 30 rows at a time. The work went from about five hours per acre to half an hour.
With today’s modern cotton pickers (which cost almost a million dollars each), a man can harvest 60 acres or more of cotton a day. Conservation tillage has replaced disc harrows, and no one is growing row crops today.
Farmer Brown may have had $100,000 in debt, but farmers today are often in debt 10 times that amount.
This is the price to pay for doing business in today’s agriculture.
Farmer Brown reportedly didn’t recognize his farm when he woke up from his slumber after 50 years.
He would have been stunned by the equipment, wondered where the big round bales of hay came from, shocked at how few items were in his pesticide shed, and terrified at that little black box in his pocket that rang d ‘a song.
He would have been shocked that his wife had a job outside of home schooling and that his grandchildren had all gone to Clemson University to study computer science. What is computer technology, he wondered.
Surely he must be dreaming, but he always heads to the shed to look at everything new and strange.
Oh, how agriculture has changed!