The 'breathtaking' advancement of agriculture technology

Mychal Wilmes reflects on the changes of technology available to farmers and the changes in how and who gets the work done.

A green field of cut grass with small square bales of hay.
Mychal Wilmes' skills at stacking square bales were not well thought of, so he often ended up assigned to other tasks.
Melody Harp / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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Two crows squatting on the car’s roof panicked when I approached. It was taken as an omen that the coming day might hold more bad things than good. It had already started off on the wrong foot.

The promised rain had missed us, tomato blight and bugs had invaded the garden, and an already bad mood darkened.

A friend who was told about the crows said they were a good sign of things to come. In Hindu culture, ancestors return to earth by taking the form of a crow and can talk to relatives. In Native American cultures, crows represent aged wisdom.

“You’ve confused crows with ravens," he said, explaining that it is only in Irish myth that the birds represent war and mayhem.

A raven is much bigger and can live up to 30 years, while a crow’s life span is limited to approximately 8 years. Ravens were often subjects in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, an early 19th century poet and short story author.


The day that started off on the wrong foot did not improve much, hence I was determined to change habits. The small café offered coffee and breakfast. Customers included working men and retired farmers.

The pea harvest had reached maturity, and the few small grain fields were turning. Some corn had tasseled, and soybeans were catching up after a slow start. Commodity markets had recently taken a hit, and a person on the radio said there was no good reason for it.

A person who helps his sons farm talked about how strange it seems to drive a modern tractor. It involves pushing buttons and setting coordinates.

We talked about when salesmen came around hawking herbicides, claiming without proof that a product was so safe you could mix some with water and drink it.

Perhaps farmers were too trusting or unaware that the chemicals weren’t completely safe. There was a time when farmers walked into the house for supper wearing clothes discolored with chemical.

“We wouldn’t think of doing that today," he said.

In hindsight, it is a miracle that more farmers didn’t fall ill from it.

The day ahead, which promised to be hot and humid, led to talk about baling hay and getting stuck in the mow instead of stacking behind the baler. Tall and strong, he could stack bales six high on the wagon, and the loads would make it to the barn.


I wasn’t nearly as good, which made people nervous.

“This load is never going to make it into the yard," the person who owned the field said.

The field, pockmarked as it was with gopher mounds, made stacking a nightmare, but the job was still better than driving his tractor. He thought about restacking the load, which ended when I guaranteed that the wagon would make it to its destination. To prove my confidence, I climbed to the top of the load.

“You sure you want to do that?" he said, considering the risk involved.

The wagon barely made it into the yard before the bales on the right corner collapsed. The lack of stacking ability meant most often I found myself in the hay mow, which while dusty and hot, had its own advantages.

In between loads, the can milk cooler contained freezing cold pop and one could use the milk house hose wash in cool water.

So much has changed since those days of our shared youth. It would be difficult to find enough youth to have a baling crew. Many of the stanchion barns are gone as are the small herds and farmers who milked in them. Cooperation between farm families that was so necessary is also rare.

The advances made in farming ways made in the past few decades have been breathtaking.


The crows regularly rest on the car, and flee when I create a great impression of a madman.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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