Among the most awe-inspiring things in agriculture is to look back at how our grandparents farmed. Then look at where we are today.
In our grandparents' lifetimes, they went from farming with horses hitched to a moldboard plow to farming with tractors. Soybeans were commercialized in their lifetime. Corn was hybridized - which is to say, farmer/plant breeders discovered they could cross-breed corn varieties and the hybrid vigor made for far greater yielding plants. They saw a lot.
My own grandparents were married during the Depression. Grandma saved everything. My parents farmed through the '80s - a decade that saw terrible weather, terrible yields, terrible interest rates and terrible land prices. And they made it.
Today? We're taking corn hybrids and inserting genes in them to resist crop-destroying insects. Holy cow. We're on the verge of planting corn that will be more tolerant of drought - like the one that most recently devastated our crops. We're operating tractors equipped with autosteer, which can drive themselves across the field. Planters and sprayers will shut off their own rows, so you don't overplant or overspray where you've already been. And now, we're on the verge of technology that will let the combine driver control the tractor and auger wagon, while still sitting in the combine. Again with the holy cow.
We're producing yield maps that show exactly - down to the acre - how much the crop yielded in that field. Then we take those maps and use them to correct the problem areas - down to the acre. We lay field tile with satellite-specific precision, in order to drain water from wet spots. Controlled drainage systems even let us turn the tile on and off (so to speak) to hold or drain water. We test the soils down to a 3-acre grid, see what they need, and apply it at varying rates across the field. No more than we need, no less.
This is exciting.
This is technology working in our favor. Two generations ago, we were farming with horses.
Now we're using tractors equipped with enough computer power to daunt NASA. Tractors whose exhaust systems are so refined that the exhaust coming out of them is as clean as the air going into them.
Two generations ago, Illinois farmers grew corn that averaged 45 bushels per acre. By 1960, they were up to 80 bushels an acre. Today? We're pushing 190 as an average. And according to the USDA, we're doing it on 20% less land than our grandparents did in the 1930s. And we're using 2% fewer inputs (seed, chemicals, labor, etc) than our grandparents did in 1950.
That's nothing short of awe-inspiring, and we're pretty darn excited about it.
***Thank you for following along on our 30 Days on a Prairie Farm adventure! Thanks, too, to all the loyal bloggers who've burned the midnight oil and blogged along with me. If you need to catch up on your reading, all the links are below.
The archives: 30 Days on a Prairie Farm
Day 14: Leave the Farm
Day 15: Dialogue
Day 16: Store Grain
Day 17: Love
Day 18: Kid Love
Day 19: Straight Rows
More "30 Days" farm blogs
Looking for more 30 Days goodness? My Generation has friends and we're all blogging a "30 Days" series in November. Check out what these farm bloggers are talking about this month.
Beyer Beware: 30 Days, 30 Things You Never Knew About Food
Black Ink: Beef's a Trip - 30 Days from Gate to Plate
Confessions of a Farm Wife: 30 Days of Life on our Farm
Le Jardin da ma Vie: 30 Reasons Why I Love Being a Farmer's Wife
Go Go Bookworm: 30 Days of Farm Kid Stories
Kelly McCormick Photography: 30 Days of Thankfulness
Pinke Post: 30 Days of a North Dakota November
Go Beyond the Barn: 30 Days of Farm Life Blessings
Rural Route 2: 30 Days of the Not-So-Glamorous Life of This Farm Wife
Touching Families: 30 Days of a Town Girl Touched by the Farming Life
This Land, This Life, This Farmer's Wife: 30 Days of Thankfulness on a Family Farm
Farmgirldays: 30 Days of Farm Kids Trapped in the City
My Cows and Pigs: 30 Days of "What's that?"
Dennis Olmstead: 30 Days in a Row
White House on the Prairie: 30 Days, 30 Posts
A Colorful Adventure: 30 Days of JP