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Stuff – What is cool and what isn’t at the farm show

Several types of equipment caught my attention at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, in Woodstock, Ont., this September, though for different reasons.

The most remarkable was the Italian-made rock crusher. Mounted on the three point hitch of a 80+ hp tractor, it grinds rocks into ?” bits, making a decent seedbed out of what was rock-strewn ground. To demonstrate the machine at the show, windrows of stones were laid out and every so often a tractor and this crusher would make a slow pass over a row, reducing the stones to what looked like a gravel driveway.

Not surprisingly, the tractor moves along in a low gear, and there’s dust and noise galore, but the result, especially for those of us who have toiled to dig rocks from fields and cart them away, made you want to weep. Here was a machine that did something truly useful, not only dispensing with a lot of backbreaking work, but actually transforming the stones into a productive component of soil.

Our farm would not warrant one, nor any single other farm that I know of, but it is the type of implement, like a post pounder, that should be shared around a community. Or maybe one farm should own it and contract out to other farms in the community. (Note: the implement I was watching was made by FAE, and sold in Canada by Quebec-based GB Equipments, but I believe similar products are made by other manufacturers as well.)

In any case, it seems to me that this type of stone crusher is a meaningful addition to the list of useful farm implements.

Meanwhile, while looking at the latest model combines, it was hard not to think that manufacturers have subtracted themselves from the small- and even family-sized farm market. It isn’t just the cost, though at $400k+ a pop, they are wildly out of the range of farms producing less than. . . .what? 2-3 thousand acres? It is also that new combines are wildly beyond what small producers need and beyond our ability to work on. Most other farm machinery—tractors, hay-making equipment, etc.—is still available in a range of sizes, levels of technological complexity, and prices that make it possible for a smaller farm to even consider buying new, or nearly new. Not combines. From the perspective of the smaller farmer, manufacturers are steadily developing combines into what might be called financially and technologically inappropriate technology.

I keep lobbying my friend Nick, who has the dealership for a line of equipment made by a manufacturer in India, to look into importing a reasonably sized and priced line of combines. Or perhaps someone will buy the rights to an older combine design and reintroduce it, in much the same way that the design for the legendary (and long-out-of-production) de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft was purchased and the aircraft reintroduced. How cool would it be to be able to consider buying a remodeled combine from the 1970s, something able to reliably harvest hundreds of acres, and that you could, if needed, work on yourself?

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With the relentless focus on machinery (“iron”) at the farm show, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that discussions were of the “I-wish-somebody-would-make-a. . .” variety. Besides the desire to see an affordably sized and priced combine introduced to the market, it seems farmers would like to see a production type electric pickup truck. A lot of us use our pickups close to the farm, rarely ranging more than 50-60km before returning to home or the workshop, where the batteries could be charged before heading out again. I know studies have shown that the traditional farm pickup is one of the worst culprits in non-productive fuel use. It would help the cause of farming overall if more of us could point to even a few examples of non-fossil fuel power on our operations.