31 August 2014 - The Good Old Days were Just That

Several times a year I will hear from readers, farmers as well as non-farmers, who ask questions like - “ Why can’t we farm the way we did when grand-dad was farming?” “Why do the tractors and combines have to be so big and expensive?” “Why do farms have to be so big?” “Why do we have to have so many corporate farms?”

Well, to answer the last question about corporate farms, over 90% of corporate farms today are really ‘family’ corporate farms that have been incorporated for tax and estate purposes.

But, with all the new and “big” equipment being shown at the Farm Progress Show this past week, let me give you one example that came to mind on why we don’t want to go back to farming the way grand-dad did in the ‘good old days’.

When I was growing up on the farm in Wisconsin, we harvested corn one row at a time with a machine called a corn binder. Then we separated the ear from the stalk with a machine called a corn shredder. Then we ran the corn cobs through a sheller to take the kernels off the cob.

Now a John Deere combine, making one trip down the field, will harvest 18 rows at a time, taking the stalk in the front end and sending kernels of corn out the back end, 18 rows harvested at a time! And in the comfort of an air-conditioned, dust-proof cab with cushioned seat, radio, phone and computer. Labor intensive, sweat labor is no longer necessary on most farms, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the “good old days” and neither would you.

But the main reason we can’t go back to farming that way is you and me. There are too many of us to feed on the planet to farm like grand-dad did. Look at this population growth.
1940 when I was a kid - 2,216,000,000.
1980 - 4,4000,000,000,
2014 - 7,150,000,000
2050 - 9,850,000,000 projected.

As Will Rogers said decades ago, we’re not making any more land. But we keep on making a lot more people!

There is no way we can feed that population, farming the way we did when I was a kid. And with millions of people in various stages of malnutrition and starvation, we need the big equipment, we need the GMO’s and technology, and we need the innovators to keep up with the population growth and do a much better job of feeding people.

That’s why we can’t go back to farming like we did in the ‘good old days’.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.