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HI-TECH ON THE HOMESTEAD

Ah, farming. The secret dream of many a fed-up city dweller: a simple, quiet, healthy life, working in peaceful harmony with nature. Well, before you make plans to follow that dream consider the following:

Some  50 years ago at the Saskatoon exhibition I saw a remote-controlled tractor on demonstration. The operator stood at the edge of a small fenced-in area where the tractor moved slowly forward, stopped, reversed or turned as he pushed  buttons and levers on his radio control box. I was mightily impressed.

In my earliest memories of our family homestead farm there was no tractor, no power of any kind except the muscle of man and beast. My father was a horse lover and only grudgingly gave way to the need for more modern equipment.

He acquired his first tractor at some time in the 1940s, an ancient steel-tired affair--McCormick Deering 10-20 I believe. I remember looking out the kitchen window on one occasion to see it chugging past the barnyard with no one on board and my red-faced cursing father running in pursuit. The tractor seemed unimpressed with his threats, which were, apparently, no substitute for remote control.

He went back to horses for a time, but in 1947 he bought a new Allis-Chalmers B. It was a tiny model, as farms were small, usually one quarter section, at that time. But the horse era was over on our farm. I often pictured him following his horses on foot behind the harrow drawbar as, many years later, I traversed the same fields in a climate-controlled, radio-equipped  tractor cab, or   drove my brother’s 8-wheeled 4-wheel drive machine, beside which his little Allis would look like a child’s toy. As would most of our neighbours’ tractors then.

And there are countless other changes.  I recall when most grain was hauled for sale in 100-bushel wagons pulled by horses or small tractors. Now that’s done with Super B semi-trailer trucks that can haul 42 tonnes--1,542 bushels--of wheat. 

The use of farm chemicals was long unknown on our homestead as well. We began hearing about them in the late 1940s, and around 1950 my father hired a custom sprayer for one of his fields. When the operator came in for supper he washed his hands, carried the tin basin outside, dumped its contents on a clump of weeds and told us they would die in a few days. They did. Now wouldn’t that blow the mind of a modern safety expert?

A couple of years ago a local farmer showed me on his smart phone a map of a three-quarter section piece of land. It  had been created by a machine traveling over the fields sensing and recording various aspects of the soil conditions. These conditions showed up as shapes and colours on the map, which could be electronically entered into the farm implements so they  would automatically decrease or increase the rate of inputs--fertilizer for example--as they travelled over the land, depending on what each  part of the field required.

And now that most newer tractors are equipped with GPS, their operators, though on board, do not need to  touch the steering wheel as the machine moves along.  As for the giant combines compared with the threshing crews of old? Overwhelming.

Sorry, city dreamer, the quiet, simple little farm you long for, with the red barn and a variety of animals clucking and mooing in the yard  is mostly a thing of the past. If you know of any such place still in operation--and I really hope there is--please message me. 

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