On my desk at Ozarks Farm & Neighbor is a photo of my dad, Larry Turner; my uncle, Bill Turner; and my grandfather, Billie Joe Turner, standing in front of a team of horses named Bill and Nell. Dad said Bill (the horse Bill, not my uncle) was a heck of a horse but Nell, on the other hand, was a little more cantankerous and was known to bite. Nell, coincidently, is the name of my dog, which isn’t known to bite.
Both my dad and uncle are dressed in striped shirts and bib overalls, a fashion statement they continue to make more than 60 years later. My late grandfather is dressed in a plad shirt with what appears to be an old newsboy-style hat. They appear to be the “typical” 1950s farm family.
I look at the photo and wonder how many miles those horses pulled equipment or wagons. I wonder how many hours my grandfather held the reins of the team, as well as others he worked in his lifetime. I also wonder what the farmers of my grandfather’s generation would think of today’s technology in relationship to agriculture. My husband, yet another Bill in my life, says today’s trucks, tractors and cars have more computers onboard than the Apollo 11 did when it landed on the moon. Today, livestock can be fed with the touch of a button, and a drone can buzz cross pastures and fields. Times have really changed.
If you would have asked my grandpa about using GPS to drive a tractor, or told him of a corn planter that could plant 48 rows at a time and plant 75 acres an hour, he might have thought you had been out in the sun too long. There is a good chance he might have passed out when you told him the price tag for the planter was more than $450,000, which is likely more money than he ever made from farming in his lifetime. The real clincher for Billie Joe might have been when you explained that he would need a tractor with 370 horsepower to pull the planter and that it weighs about 24 tons when loaded. I don’t even want to try to do the math to figure out how many Bills and Nells it would take to pull it.
My nearly 70-year-old dad finally got himself a “fancy” tractor, complete with a cab, air conditioning, heat, a radio and a cup holder. He deserves it.
Yes, the industry has changed since that photo on by desk was taken. Thanks to the changes to machinery and equipment, today’s American farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs compared to 1950. The American farmer also feeds about 155 people around the world, that’s up from 25 people in 1960. There may be fewer farmers today, but they continue to make an impact on the global economy with more than $115 billion in agricultural products being exported around the world. Not bad for a bunch of farmers. These are achievements that would have never been obtained if not for the changes in technology we have seen over the last half century.
Grandpa Billie Joe passed away when I was in elementary school, and Bill (the horse Bill, not my uncle Bill or my husband Bill) and Nell (the horse Nell, not my dog Nell) are gone, but their work helped pave the way for today’s modern farmers.
My dad and uncle are still plugging away at their respective farming operations, and they awe the younger generation of my family with their stories of rank bulls, saddle broncs, hateful heifers, hair-raising hijinks and even a camel named Gus. While I think they are enjoying the “simpler” life with their modern equipment, I won’t be surprised if they decided one day to hitch up my dad’s mules and take themselves on a nice little trip somewhere. Why? Because no matter how old you get or how times change, you always want to be a kid again.