Machinery

A tractor made slow progress up the lane, cutting back protruding branches. The work was necessary to allow the combine harvester to reach a field of grain at the top.

Within an hour of the way having been cleared, the huge green Deutz-Fahr harvester arrived and rolled at walking pace to the field where the barley was to be cut.

It is a measure of how much bigger farm machinery has begun that a path had to be cleared. The harvester must be twice the size of the combines that worked in the area fifty years ago.

Paradoxically, the number of tractors and combine harvesters has declined.

Partly, the decline is explained by the smaller number of farms. As one farmer now farms the land once occupied by three or four former, he no longer needs the number of tractors that were once used by his predecessors.

Partly, the sheer cost of agricultural vehicles means that it doesn’t make sense for a farmer to have machines he only uses for a limited time  each year. With new tractors at over £100,000 and combine harvesters at £250,000, the machinery demands huge investment. The answer has become to hire contractors to carry out the work that demands the use of machinery with a high capital cost.

A friend told me of a farmer he knew who had a dairy farm milking five hundred Frisian cows. The dairy farmer had a single old Zetor tractor for doing work in the yard, everything else demanding mechanical effort was carried out by contractors.

Farming has changed beyond recognition from the days of farmers with fifty to sixty acres driving a grey Ferguson tractor. Perhaps the days of my childhood were the final times of the old owner operated farm, the farmer cutting and baling his own hay and harvesting his own crops. Of course, the haymaking and the harvesting could not be achieved by a person working alone, family, friends and neighbours would gather to assist a farmer, who, in turn, would provide assistance in return for the help received.

It is strange now to look back at the machinery used on the home farm in the 1960s and 1970s. The threshing machine that was brought to the farm once a year now only appears in museums and at vintage fairs. The Ferguson tractors are now painted and polished leisure vehicles. The balers and binders and miscellaneous other devices are rare sights.

The machinery that went up our lane used to be very different.

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