At Husker Harvest Days a couple of years ago, I found something new that I hadn’t seen before. One manufacturer unveiled a new automatic gate opener. It was the coolest thing I’d seen, especially for someone with a cow-calf herd.
With the push of a button on a remote control, the gate lifted out of the way so you could drive through. It was a miracle gadget. Since then, I have noticed that a few companies have released similar versions of the same concept.
As a youth, I was always the guy sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, closest to the door, when we went to pasture to haul cows and calves or to check on fences. If you were driving or sitting in the middle seat, you were off the hook.
But the person next to the passenger door was stuck opening and closing the gates. Many of our pastures were located along the winding West Bow Creek, so there often were multiple gates to open and close within the same pastures.
It’s kind of like the gadget I first noticed at Farm Progress Show a few years ago that automatically opened and closed grain bin lids. It isn’t “rocket science,” and those new gadgets won’t change the world, but they are truly appreciated by the folks who climb the bins every day.
Most of the time, I’m guessing these kinds of inventions are designed and built by farmers and ranchers, or at least someone who has worked in production agriculture and had to take on those tasks on a regular basis. They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
Coming up with new, more efficient and effective ways to do things on the farm is the reason we have the technology that we often take for granted today. We look at new planting tools, center pivot irrigation sprinklers and tillage tools, and we know that many of them originally were developed in someone’s farm shop.
While an automatic gate opener or grain bin lid opener may never be on the same level of innovativeness as GPS, variable-rate technology or genetically modified crops, we realize that technology has been driving how we farm for centuries.
Throughout the 1800s, farm innovation depended almost entirely on the designing of new farm implements that were operated by real, live horsepower. Everything from tillage to planting, cultivation and harvest was accomplished with help from horses or mules.
But the horse-drawn plow and the horse-operated threshing machine were true innovations of the day. They changed everything on the farm.
In the 1890s, as steam-powered tractors became popular, the horses and mules began to be replaced. With the invention of the gas-powered tractor in 1893, there was another competitor on the market, vying for a commercial share of the business from farmers. Even as tractors, trucks and automobiles hit the market and became more commercially reliable, horses and mules still were part of the equation, with numbers peaking in 1924.
The same goes with crop seed genetics. In the early part of the last century, open-pollinated corn was the norm. Hybrid varieties were the innovation of the day when they became commercially available to farmers. Today, we take all these technologies for granted, although everything we know on the farm now was built upon those earlier innovations.
With autonomous farm tractors and other rapid advances we have experienced in recent years in agriculture, we may wonder what will come next. There are wonderful inventions on the horizon, but I doubt whether I will personally appreciate any new innovations more than that automatic gate opener. With that miracle invention, it no longer matters where you sit in the pickup when you head out to the pasture.