Ag at Large: Farm growth is more than crops

By Don Curlee | Contributed

It might be possible these days to start farming with a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a plot of land – the way some organic enthusiasts did in the ‘80s. But expect growth to overtake you.

Thoughts of the persistent and powerful effect of normal growth engendered by our economy and the tenacity of farmers were overwhelming on a final stroll along one of the streets of the AgExpo in Tulare last month. On this particular route, the products were mostly “helpers” –  equipment to advance a farmer from tugging, lifting and struggling in a particular effort to his relying on a mechanical device to do the heavy lifting.  

Changing tires on farm trucks or other equipment is a fairly common exercise. But the tires on farm trucks and some other equipment are bigger than car tires, heavier and harder to handle.  What caught our eye was a piece of equipment that stripped a heavy tire from its rim in seconds in an easy, rolling movement controlled by an attendant who wasn’t tugging, lifting or struggling.

In another booth stood 15-foot-high metal storage units for grain or other materials. They looked like oversized ice cream cones. Obviously they were intended to take the place of hauling and handling sack after sack of feed or other material to the farm from the supplier in town. Instead, ordering in volume allowed the dealer to deliver in bulk into the storage unit where it could be dispensed as needed.

Featured in another booth was machinery to chop and grind tree limbs and prunings into small pieces. The ground-up pieces can be spread back into the orchard that produced the larger limbs to serve as valuable organic matter and to help keep the soil open for water penetration and good texture.

One of the booths was manned by the family of a local trucker who built his business by hauling cow manure from dairies, delivering it where it could be used as fertilizer for crops. Now the operators of the business combine the manure with other ingredients to create an organic fertilizer, blended and tailored to the needs of various crops.

You might think of these pieces of equipment or processes as evolution rather than growth, and you might be right. But the logic and the need for them as work savers, time savers and either money savers or money makers translated to me as growth. They were the means to help small farm operators to be bigger, more efficient, more profitable.

While this section of AgExpo displayed smaller sized equipment and products the neighboring displays of huge, large horsepower machines conveyed the same theme – accomplishing more with less individual effort. Instead of harvesting a couple of rows of corn (or other crop) in a single pass through the field, why not harvest eight rows in the same distance with a bigger machine?

Just like assembly line philosophy: find ways for machines to do the work faster and more efficiently. Accomplishing that on the farm is not that much different from doing it in Detroit or in one of the newer robotic assembly centers. We don’t grasp the concept or see evidence of it as quickly in farming, because each site where it takes place is remote.

But farm shows like AgExpo bring it all together. At least this year’s show brought it together for me with impact. Can’t help hoping that the showing of equipment fostered the same “light bulb” moment for thousands of others in attendance.

Perhaps even the sponsors of farm equipment shows don’t perceive the same “gut feeling” of this reason for their popularity and attraction. They don’t need to as long as they just keep providing a place for it to happen.