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The future of farm machinery

Of old tractors, new combines & achievable efficiencies

Herewith a few thoughts on farm machinery, past, present and future:
Tractors—end of an era?
No matter how much our farming friends sing the praises of their 1970s vintage Masseys and International tractors, I can not believe this equipment will remain viable for yet another generation. Either the parts will become too difficult to source or the reliability will become such that the tractors are only suitable for farm parades. By 2025, when most Boomers will be done farming, much of this equipment will be 50-60 years old.
Which raises the question, what next? If the past is any measure, some farmers will pony up for new tractors while others opt to move to a newer version of old, purchasing 1990s and early 2000 era used equipment. It is no slight to the manufacturers to question whether the lighter, sprightlier tractors manufactured in the last 20 years will hold up like the iron heavy models of 40 years ago. I guess we’ll see—but probably from the vantage of a rocking chair on the porch, not the tractor seat.
A combine for the people!
It is high time for a new, economical combine for small farms. I’m thinking of a machine that could do 2-5 acres/hr, and costs less than $60,000, new.
The equipment many of us are using now— combines of 70s, 80s and early 90s vintages can be made to run for only so long. Newer machines are both too big and, with on-board computers and digital hoo-has, virtually impossible to fix yourself and too expensive to call in dealer help.
The kind of combines I’m talking about are being manufactured and used—in India and China. There are reminiscent of early Gleaners and Internationals. Not pretty but very functional. Completely serviceable for the able farmer. The trick is not getting one into Canada—that’s probably an email and a few clicks on PayPal away—it is setting up a support network to provide parts. Or, even more fanciful wish—perhaps a North American manufacturer could dust off some old blue prints and start manufacturing such a machine.
Push & pull
For some time now larger farm tractors have had the option of operating equipment on the front as well as the rear. There are tractors with three point hitches and PTO options on the front. It took a recent trip to the UK for me to realize just how useful this could be. I watched a farmer leveling a rough tilled field with a combination tine/roller on the front while (or, as the Brits would say “whilst”) drilling in winter wheat on the rear. Marvelous!
I think of all the time we bump and crash around a field—pulling a disk, or harrow, or roller—and imagine the difference even a 25% gain in efficiency would make. Or how about the multiple passes making hay? It should be possible to mount a rake to the front of the tractor so the windrow goes straight into the baler. Attach a hay wagon behind the same baler and put a couple of sturdy kids on it and you’d have a model of efficiency.