Back in the earlier days of no-till, a favorite slide in presentations at no-till education meetings showed a plow chained to a tree. The speaker used it to get a few laughs, and to make the point that not only was the implement no longer needed on this farm, but no one could use it, either.
Most of those pictures likely were staged. Recently, however, I happened upon an abandoned moldboard plow that is for real. The point is the same: The farmer has no use for the plow because he practices no-till and minimum tillage on all his land. But the story itself is intriguing.
I noticed the plow when I followed Michael and Kelsey Gettelfinger, Washington County, Ind., down the long lane along their chicken houses to their office. I thought it was strange to find a moldboard plow on the farm, since I know they’re heavy into conservation tillage. In fact, I first met the Gettelfingers earlier this year when they were recognized at the 2020 awards luncheon of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The brothers were named Conservation Farmers of the Year.
The plow seemed to be abandoned, with plenty of rust covering up its original red color and weeds growing up around it. What was its story?
“If it had some new hoses and a few other parts, it might still work for somebody up north on flat land,” Michael said when I asked about it later. “It certainly doesn’t belong here. All except our bottom land soils are rolling, and we’re concerned about soil erosion.”
The Gettelfinger brothers no-till 90% to 95% of what they plant each year and run a vertical-tillage tool on bottom ground or to incorporate poultry litter. They also grow cover crops everywhere they can and are fine-tuning how to make them an even more productive part of their operation.
So how did the five-bottom International plow with auto-reset beams wind up in the weeds? “It came with the farm when I bought it,” Michael said, smiling. He bought the property in 2011. “It was pretty much in that condition when I bought the place. I had no use for it, so I just let it sit.”
In fact, as it turns out, the plow has only moved once in nine years. “It was originally on the other side of the driveway, across from where it is now,” Michael said. “When Kelsey and I decided to build a poultry litter storage barn there, we had to move it. So, we did — we moved it across the driveway, and it still sits.”
The plow is not chained to a tree, but it still makes the point. It’s not needed nor wanted on the rolling land these brothers farm. They’ve found a more productive way to raise crops.
Why is it still sitting there? I didn’t ask. But I’m glad it was there the day I visited. It reminded me that for many, at least, it’s a technology whose day has passed. For these young farmers, it’s a part of history, not the future.
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