It's not all fun and games this career we call farming. It is one of the highest occupational hazards, and with good reason. What once started out with a man and a handheld tool, has now progressed to monstrous machines with great horsepower.
Real horsepower had its hazards too, due to the inclinations of real animals that could become alarmed or just plain ornery when the right set of circumstances prevailed. Ropes, pulleys and gears provided the right combination to get some things done. But, then it progressed to other larger pulleys and gears with iron chains and huge engines. Today those monstrous machines have the power of 400-plus horses in some cases.
I once counted the number of batteries and tires we had on our farm, a small farm in comparison to those of today. It was mind boggling to say the least. All those batteries required attention to make sure they were operating properly and all those tires needed to have the right amount of air and were in good condition prior to going to the field or on the road. And, that is just the beginning of the story.
Almost fifty years ago when my husband and I started farming, we had little machinery. We started out with nothing and added to it by going to auctions or buying used machinery from a dealer to lower the cost. We had a couple of small tractors, a plow, some tillage equipment and a pull-type combine. We borrowed a planter from a parent to get the planting done. Things have surely changed, not only in the size of equipment but also in how it is used.
Wagons early on were usually flat-bed wagons with removable sides that could be used not only for grain but also to bale hay or straw. To get grain into a bin one had to use a scoop shovel. I never really counted, but there are an awful lot of scoops in a flatbed wagon. Take my word on it. Farms were smaller, bins were smaller so it was not impossible to scoop grain into a bin by hand, but it took considerable energy. One can see why meat and potatoes were a mainstay for meals. Carbohydrates were needed to produce all that energy expended in the process.
Next were wagons with sides that flowed inward, directing the grain out the back, making it a bit easier to unload. Then came gravity-flow wagons that were sloped down to a door that made unloading a much easier process aided by Newton's law of gravity. Elevators and augers helped put those harvests in just the right places; things gradually became easier.
If nothing else it signifies how farming has changed in those fifty years. Now we have grain bins with legs that will fill bins within its radius; weigh wagons hold many, many more bushels than some of the older wagons. Huge tractors, huge combines, all make harvesting faster. The cost of this new, huge machinery is mind boggling.
However, many farmers still use smaller equipment that gets the work done in a timely fashion. Machinery does not have to be big to do a good job. But, it does have to keep working. Whenever there is a breakdown, time is spent tearing apart the machine, seeing what happened, then ordering parts that a dealer may or may not have in stock, especially if you have an older machine. A lot of harvest time can be lost if machinery is down for repairs. It always makes good sense to ensure it goes into storage in good, operating condition. But, even with precautions, the inevitable may happen. Then you gather your resources and get to work.
Farmers deal with weather, markets and machinery which doesn't always cooperate. Start a morning with a battery that has gone down or hear a strange noise in the operation of a combine or tractor and one knows it will be a long day. Add to the fact this may be the only dry day in the week to harvest a crop and it can add a lot of frustration and tension.
After farming for so many years, most farmers can take it with a grain of salt. Each year planting and harvest season is different, presenting its own challenges. Wet springs, drought in summer, wet falls all add to that challenge. Small windows of opportunity just can't be missed.
But, looking over the many years we have farmed I know that things seem to iron out in the long run. When spring rains kept us out of the fields, the combination of later plantings and later rains, at times, have been pluses. Sometimes it means going out of your current rotation of crops to be able to plant and harvest. One year, due to a really wet fall, we did not harvest soybeans until a January deep freeze. They were still there. Some farmers dealt with the same conditions last year. I would hate to say how many times I have pulled another tractor or other machinery out of a muddy field, marshaling horsepower to get equipment out during wet weather.
Weather happens, breakdowns occur, markets fluctuate, it all is part of that occupation called agriculture. Hazardous, frustrating or rewarding and satisfying by turns, it takes a special kind of person to accommodate its challenge. The American farmer exemplifies it all.
Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer's daughter and now as a farmer's wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.