At a small combination grocery store, gas station, and John Deere dealership in the town of Tygh Valley, Oregon sat a brand new model 95 John Deere self-propelled combine with a 15′ grain platform. The year was 1954. The owner of the dealership for the prior 25 years, along with the behemoth’s proud new owner, stood among the group of local ranchers & farmers who had gathered to exclaim. “How large a combine does one need? Can the cost of $10,000 ever be recouped?”
As a 14 year old boy, the combine appeared to be real big and very “neat”! Not being able to see from the perspective of those who had farmed with horses and steel wheeled tractors probably made me less doubtful of the need, or as shocked at the $10,000.00 cost. Now 60-odd years later I better understand what those men were thinking. Their perspective was a result of having grown up on small farms with smaller farm equipment. The change they had seen was much greater than that which a 14 year old had experienced. This is the same today as it was then. The change one has seen gives them their own reckoning point.
Meanwhile, farm equipment has continued getting bigger. Today, 300 horsepower tractors don’t seem too large to my younger customers – after all, they grew up using 100 and 150 horsepower tractors.
As I witness the increasing size of each new generation of farm equipment, I recall the cover of an old farm magazine I once saw, which pictured a giant corn planter imposed over a map of the entire United States and making one pass from east to west! One of my concerns over the increasing size of farm equipment is that it encourages larger and larger farms. The equipment costs need to be spread over more units of production, so more ground is needed. This translates to larger but fewer farms.
With fewer farms, our small town businesses suffer from having fewer farmers (customers). The population grows in the larger regional towns, where corporate big box stores move in, adding to the difficulty of running a business in a small town. As a result we see empty stores and Main Streets all across rural America.
So to what extent does large farm equipment contribute to the decline of the rural America that all farm people love? Today, the store in Tygh Valley that sold the Model 95 combine in 1954 is long gone. All that’s left of the town are a few homes and a cemetery. If farms & equipment get much bigger, will we be able to continue passing on our rural way of life to our children and grandchildren?