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By D. P

4th November 1932
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Page 50, 4th November 1932 — By D. P
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?




vital to prosper

v in agriculture

S0 much misconception and prejudice exist concerning the so-called mechanization of farming, that too much cannot be done to make the position clear. Broadly stated, it is that the general run of practical, commercial farmers throughout the country are making use to a considerable extent of such mechanical aids as are within their reach. A handful of newcomers to the industry, however, chiefly people with large capital resources, are operating what may be termed without disparagement of their efforts, " stunt " farms, which have come very much into the limelight.

These mechanized farms are mainly in the cerealgrowing districts and are concentrated on the production of corn crops, without any stock, so that the number of hands employed is low. The critics seize upon these few farms as a pretext for crusading against the employment of machinery, on the ground that it is leading to rural depopulation.

Minor Hindrances to Development.

Whilst their case cannot for a moment hold water, it is of the variety which is acceptable to the uninformed, and, if producing no serious bar to the progress of power farming, is apt to introduce minor hindrances.

This depopulation theory can be disposed of under two headings. First, in so far as it is based on the few mechanized cereal-growing holdings, a direct comparison with adjoining farms, which have not been converted to mechanical operation, will show that these other farms are largely derelict. Some have been thrown down to poor grass, carrying no more than a sheep to the acre, and on which the labour employed will amount only to a shepherd and a boy per 1,000 acres,

The mechanized corn-growing holding, in addition to keeping the land in production and improving its crop yields, employs from four to six men per 1,000 acres and pays them, on an average, probably twice as much in wages.

Secondly, on the normal type of farm, where machinery is being fairly extensively employed, there is no evidence of any general reduction in the number of regular workers. The machine has replaced many casual or part-time workers, who no longer offer themselves for employment, and it has reduced considerably the hours of overtime. Furthermore, it has released men from labour-wasting methods, and their efforts have been diverted to other and more productive work on the farm.

Then, apart from the numbers of people employed on the machine-operated farm, one has to consider their conditions of labour. The poorly equipped workers tending horse-drawn implements achieve such small results in a long day's work, that low wages are inevitable. The horse does, in fact, set the level of the minimum wage for farm workers.

Some Advantages of Power Farming.

The results of the farmer adopting power machinery are shorter hours of labour and better pay for the workers, in addition to better returns for the agriculturist himself on the money invested in labour. Modern ideas on the standard of living and working conditions are definitely leading the farm hands to voice their desire to be put in charge of up-to-date equipment.

On the score of increased home-food production, there is no doubt whatever, as to the part which must be played by power-farming machinery, because there

is scope for great development if the produce can be sold at prices to beat world competition. But there can be little ultimate scope at any artificial price level such as the adherents to old-fashioned methods demand.

On political and social „grounds, then, one can feel assured that the advocacy of a progressive powerfarming policy is perfectly right; but one must also he certain that it fits in as a practical policy for the average farm of to-day, in view of all the current difficulties.

Mechanized Agriculture on Small Resources.

It has become the fashion to provide a ready-made excuse for the farmer who is not utilizing machinery, that low produce prices hold out no inducement to buy equipment, and that, in any case, he has no available. capital. If prices improve, then he will buy more machinery.

Such a gospel of defeatism is in striking contrast to the showing made by numerous individuals in every branch of farming, who have equipped themselves to meet low selling prices by attaining even lower costs of production.

The contrast is made even greater when one knows these people personally and is aware that their capital resources are, in many instances, much less than those of their neighbours, who maintain old methods and call out on every possible occasion for subsidies and other artificial helps.

In short, the adoption of modern methods in farming, as in every other industry, is mainly a matter of individuality and business acumen. Many businesslike farmers have, however, yet to be convinced of the value of certain items of equipment, mainly because of a lack of experience or mechanical knowledge. It would be unfair to criticize anyone who has not adopted a machine because its suitability for his particular conditions has not been demonstrated to him.

'Apart from the milking machine, which has had a profound effect upon the dairy-farming industry, there are probably no other items of such importance as the lorry and the tractor. Nevertheless, one frequently finds a user of one of these who has no idea of the value of the other to him, or is even prejudiced against it.

The lorry, because it is not directly involved in the complex problems of cultivation, has escaped the many objections levelled against the tractor, and the chief difficulty in the minds of such people as are not already users is the standing charges of taxation and insurance.

It is true that these amount to a substantial stun, but if all farm costs could be revealed as clearly in black and white as the amounts paid out in this way it would he seen that the overtime wages alone involved in looking after two or three teams of horses would amount to more than the standing charges on the average farm lorry.

Invaluable Services of the Commercial Motor.

But the services of the commercial vehicle and its influence on the cropping and marketing activities of the farm are worth far more than can be expressed in terms of f s. d. In fact the whole business of many successful farmers is based entirely upon the regular employment of the lorry, isolated farms are brought within a short run of big cities, produce can be marketed direct to retailer or consumer, a choice can be made among half a dozen auction marts, whilst supplies can be bought in a cheap centre and carried home at cost. When not on the road the lorry pro rides its owner with a valuable means for handy transport on the. farm, and even auxiliary haulage power in the seasons of rush cultivation or harvest.

Even if modern conditions had not driven the hor e off the roads, the commercial motor would have earn -• its place on the farm by reason of its ready adapt bility and essential convenience. It makes a gre t Working partner for the farm tractor.

The bogy of Soil Compression.

Of the many prejudices against the tractor whi Ii have been put forward as arguments against its ado tion,probably none has had greater effect than t bogy of soil compression, known as " panning " "padding."

it is used to-day as the chief weapon of the an tractor propagandists, and it is the more effecti e because it is founded on some of the facts of 12 or 15 years ago, when agrimotors of low power weighi g as much as three or •four tons were used with° it discretion.

With the modern tractor we can plough and cans out other operations on the land without the passage of as much weight over it as if we use horses. For example, a 30-cwt. tractor will haul a three-furrow plough under conditions where two or, perhaps, three ld-cwt. horses will be required to pull one.

Moreover, whereas the spudded wheels of the tractor break up the bottom of the furrow, all the pressure of the horses' hoofs is compressive. It should never be forgotten that before the tractor was invented plough pan formed by the treading of the horses was one of the worst bugbears of the arable farmer.

Actual facts are more impressive than any amount of theory in an argument of this sort. In view of the fact that soil compression is likely to be most marked in, its bad effects on heavy land, it is of great importance to note that the concentration of tractors is greatest in the counties of heavy land. This is good evidence that practical clay-land farmers have not found any harm to result from the use of the tractor.; On the contrary, the, agrinaotor is found to be most needed on such land, owing to the difficulties of efficient cultivation by any other means. Damage is done to a clay soil merely by operating an implement upon it under wet conditions, without taking the motive power into account. If horses be relied upon, their slow pace is such that some land is inevitably worked in an unfit condition in order to complete it.

The ability of the tractor to cover a large acreage per hour and to work right through the 24 hours, if necessary, means that full advantage can be taken of the brief spells when heavy land is in good working condition and, therefore, there is a correspondingly reduced risk Of deterioration of soil condition. Nearly all of the advantages of the tractor can be summed up into the statement that it is our best aid to beat the climatic conditions with which we are faced. Speed at sowing time is usually the making of the crop, just as at harvest it is the saving of it, Not only speed, but also thoroughness of working is equally an essential advantage of the tractor. Deep cultivation for the sugar-beet crop, for instance, may mean the difference between a profit and a loss. Such deep cultivation is seldom possible—economically or otherwise—with horse-drawn tackle.

That the tractor enables the farmer to farm well and do his cultivations when and as they should be done, is the principal reason, in my opinion, why the tractor has secured its favoured place. We know that the tractor (lees its work cheaper, as well as better than the horse, but those considerations alone would not induce many good farmers to adopt it.

The comparative cheapness of tractor working is none the less welcome, however, and is such as to put the power farmer in a position to compete with any foreign competition, if he be given reasonable marketing conditions. It is not difficult to secure accurate costs of operations carried out by the tractor, but it is rare to find a farmer who knows exactly the costs of horse work. Hence, to institute direct comparisons is seldom of much value in argument and, I am inclined to think, is not of great importance.

There is, also, quite a wide range of costs for any one job, because variations are introduced according to the size and shape of the field, the nature of the soil and the size and type of the tractor. A similar variation exists in respect of horse work.

From my own experience and from data collected over a wide range of conditions, I can, however, give, as a general guide, the rule that where all conditions are as nearly as possible similar, the cost of work done with a paraffin-engined farm tractor will be in the region of 50 per cent, less than that of the same work done by horses.

For example, ploughing on medium land with horses is generally reckoned, under present conditions, to cost 10s. per acre. With a medium-sized general-purpose tractor the all-in cost would not exceed Ss.

Advantages Which Are Hard to Assess.

But, having said so much, we are still far from assessing the true value of the tractor job, for who can value the intangible benefit derived from its being done at the right time and at high speed? These are two factors which will have a marked effect upon the physical and chemical properties of the soil.

So much has been said and written about agricultural depression, that those outside the industry may be forgiven if they believe it to be a market that is not worth while." I would like to emphasize, therefore, that, under existing conditions, people with the right equipment and properly directed management are not only keeping afloat, but are swimming pretty strongly. The manufacturer, therefore, who studies the farm market and offers equipment suited to its needs, is, I believe, assured of a real and substantial reward.


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