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Precision ag has changed with the times

As a matter of fact, he didn’t care too much for a tractor. Of course he owned one, a dull orange Case as I recall. And he allowed as how it was okay for hooking up the power take-off to his hammer mill to turn corn into hog feed. He also cranked it up to run the big saw he used to turn pine logs into planks and sawdust.

And it did a fine job of pulling vehicles out of mud holes, of which there was an abundance in the Anderson County, S.C., boonies, where he rented a small farm and ran a blacksmith shop.

But for precision agriculture, Pop preferred the brace of red horses he alternately worked and pampered. I still wonder at his ability to start at one end of a long field, aim one of those brawny animals toward the far side and lay off a row laser-straight with no more than an occasional “gee up there Tony” then “haw back now,” when the horse veered slightly too far right. (I never learned where those phrases for right and left came from. Anybody remember I’d appreciate hearing from you.)

On the occasional days when either a horse or my granddaddy was in a cantankerous mood the directions might take on a bit more flavorful language. The resulting straight rows remained constant, however, and at the end of the day he could walk back to where he’d started and see parallel lines stretching from here to can’t see that far.

He was just as accurate with his planter, a one-row contraption with adjustable plates that would put corn, cotton or bean seed precisely where Pop wanted them to fall. Seedlings emerged on schedule, each equidistant from his neighbors left and right.

His favorite bit of technology, however, was his riding plow, a four-row cultivator with shanks attached to a buggy-like conveyance with a metal seat. Hand levers to raise and lower the cultivators stood to the right, a brake to the left, lest the horses forget the time and start off in a trot for the barn.

A long tongue ran from underneath the plow and Pop hitched a horse on each side, singletrees attaching plow to horse. Pop held two sets of plow lines, one attached to the bit each horse held, somewhat reluctantly, in its mouth.

The plow was high enough to allow granddaddy to cultivate corn after it was well up, and his perch allowed him to see over the horses and guide them through the rows of corn.

I think he liked this implement for two reasons: One, he could plow while sitting down.

Two, he got to use both his horses at the same time. He was always right proud of those two big red horses.

He used them to harvest the corn as well. They pulled the wagon while he and anyone he had around to help, tossed the plucked ears of corn into the wagon bed.

But that was 50 years ago. Regrettably, my granddaddy and both horses are long gone. He died before a man ever landed on the moon, but he probably wouldn’t have thought much of that either. My grandmother was alive when Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface but she never really believed it actually happened.

I would enjoy taking my granddaddy out to the High Plains and showing him how farmers grow cotton and corn these days. I suspect he’d marvel at the technology. He’d probably wonder a bit at the cost to grow stuff and would enjoy watching modern machinery perform in an hour what it took him the best part of a week to do.

But I also suspect that if there were horses on the place, he’d end up spending more time admiring them than he would examining a cotton stripper.

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