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First ride in a combine brings back old memories

First ride in a combine brings back old memories
Technology has transformed agriculture in last 60 years

A lot of people will probably be surprised to find out that, even at my advanced age and despite the fact that I have been involved in agriculture my entire life, I had never set foot in a combine until about a month ago.

Crownover raises beef on his farm in southwestern Missouri.

I was in the northern part of the state for a few days, helping out an old friend on his farm while he was recovering from surgery, when we went by another old college buddy's place for a short visit. Stony was harvesting corn and invited me to ride a few rounds with him while it was still daylight. As I climbed up into the behemoth machine and took a seat beside him, I marveled at all the digital displays that surrounded us. Surely, a modern-day passenger jet couldn't have too many more monitors to observe than this state-of-the-art corn picker.

As my friend started pushing levers and buttons, the machine picked up both speed and noise as we approached a fresh set of 16 unpicked rows of corn. I was mesmerized as the combine slid through the rows at about 6-7 MPH. Looking through the window to my rear, I could see a stream of golden-colored kernels filling the bin. My eyes must have been wide with amazement because Stony commented, "I can't believe this is your first time in a combine."

Even though Stony has been to my farm before, I had to remind him that our 2-3 inches of topsoil (and that's a generous estimate) is not suited for growing crops and, even if it was, a combine would most surely turn over on our steep slopes. He nodded in agreement.

The farm where I was raised, however, did have some bottomland that was deep and fertile enough to grow some row crops. I informed my friend that we always raised a few acres of corn to feed our hogs and dairy cows. "How did you harvest it?" he asked, "With a one-row picker?"     I stuck out both hands, as I began to describe corn harvest on the 1950s Crownover farm.

Our huge corn harvest (no more than 10 or 12 acres) was completed by hand-picking the corn and tossing the ears into an old four-wheeled farm wagon, pulled by Ol' Buck and Maude, Dad's last team of draft horses. As I remember, Dad would usually pick five rows on one side of the wagon, Mom would pick three rows on the other side, and I would pick the two rows ridden down by the wagon. So, I guess you could say we had a 10-row picker.

I can remember always getting a new pair of brown, jersey gloves before beginning each harvest. I would pick corn for a few minutes, pick cockleburs off the gloves for a few minutes, and then keep repeating the vicious cycle until the end of the field was reached. It would take us about a week to complete the harvest and the brown, jersey gloves would be worn out to the point that the cockleburs would be stabbing my hands in the holey spots. It was not fun.

Based on the time it took Stony's 16-row combine to cover 10-12 acres, I concluded that he could have picked our entire crop in quite a bit less than one hour. I pondered the profound changes that progress and technology have brought to us. "Would you like to drive it for a round?" Stony asked, jolting me from my 60-year-old daydream.

"I would," I answered, "but I don't have any brown, jersey gloves."

Crownover raises beef on his farm in southwestern Missouri.

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