When my grandfather was alive, he was amazed at the advances in horsepower during his lifetime. He was born in 1893 and lived to be nearly 98 years old. During that time period, which almost spanned a century, he saw farming go from real, live horsepower and mostly two-row equipment to steam power — and eventually to modern tractors in the 1990s and mostly eight-row equipment on average. He never dreamed of the adoption of no-till, because everything farmers did in those days was related to tillage of some kind.
In my lifetime, tractors and agriculture machinery have advanced considerably, especially from the Super M and Super H Farmall tractors that I first learned to drive. But computers and technology are probably the most important advancements during my lifetime, or at least during the last 20 years. I recall in high school in the early 1980s that our school had some of the very first computers of any high school in the region. We had three computers, and they were cassette tape-driven. By the time I was a senior, I think the school had purchased five computers total.
In college, it was all about programming. In a class called Ag Computers, we learned to develop and write our own simple programs. It was time-consuming, and I’m pretty sure any program I developed on calving dates and cow-calf record keeping was all but useless. However, it gave me a taste of the technology of the day.
We adopt, adapt quickly
Now, when I interview farmers, I am always amazed at how quickly we have adopted and adapted to the latest and greatest in technology on the farm. The computers of the old days have given way to smartphones and even wristwatches that are more efficient and can do at least a hundred times more than our old tape-driven computers in high school. Tractors that drive themselves, variable-rate technology and telemetry continue to evolve to the needs of modern farmers.
A recent conversation with Tyler Harris, Nebraska Farmer editor, about the upcoming 40th anniversary version of Husker Harvest Days this September in Grand Island, prompted this look back in my own mind at the changes that I’ve seen since 1977, when I was in junior high. A mere 40 years is a flyspeck on the timeline of Earth, but we have come light years in advancements on the farm in that brief period. And much of the advancement is not all that visible in actual iron in the field. The data, the technology, the intelligence and efficiencies that we are collecting and gaining have boosted our productivity so much that we can produce scores more using much, much less in resources.
I finally am old enough to understand a little bit about what my grandfather felt when it came to horsepower. I suppose that’s why he always enjoyed attending threshing reunions in the area, reminiscing about the old days when horses and steam power ran the farm. However, I never once heard him say that he wanted to go back to those days. He was all about progress, like many of the farmers of his generation. I don’t think that innovative spirit has changed much in the past 100 years.