By Dave McEachren, McEachren Seeds, Glencoe, Ont.
It was 1945, and my grandfather was purchasing his first farm. The 100 acres of southwestern Ontario clay-loam soil was much like the land his father before him had farmed. The man he bought the farm from warned of the trouble with modern tractors. “Don’t go buying a tractor,” he said, “they will only break down, cost you money and you will probably lose the farm.” Little did the man know that my grandfather had already ordered a brand new McCormick-Farmall model “A” tractor.
At a cost of roughly $750, the “Little A” (as we refer to it) came with 16 horsepower and weighed about 2,500 pounds. The tractor was perfect for the 100 acre family farm that consisted of several small crop fields and pasture. At that time the average family farm was feeding less than 25 people, a great leap from the 12 people that each family farm fed in 1900. The same post-war period saw many manufacturing facilities spring up across the country, but we’ll come back to that thought a bit later.
How did we get in 70 years from 16 horsepower tractors to the behemoth, high-horsepower monsters that are roaming the countryside today? Well, the family farm really hasn’t changed much.“What?” you say. What about all those big corporate farms that are taking over the world? Well, truth be known, the family farm has changed a bit over the years, but only in structure.
Our family farm for instance, yes that same 4th generation farm that my great-grandfather started, has seen some changes. In 2010, my wife and I formed a corporation for our portion of the farm operation. There are many reasons to incorporate, and hence you see Inc, LLC, Ltd. behind the names of many great companies. What hasn’t changed though are the people. My father, uncle, and wife, all make decisions on the farm and are part of the every-day operation of it. We have expanded to approximately 2,300 acres over the 70 years since my grandfather purchased his first 100 acre farm. Now, how would that “Little A” stand up to that many acres? A typical farm of our size may have several tractors now, ranging from 50 horsepower all the way up to 400 horsepower or more. In comparison a brand new 370 horsepower tractor weighs over 32,000 pounds and has a retail price of $355,000. That would be a lot of “Little A”s.
How can we call ourselves a family farm with a fleet of big equipment stomping around and farming that many acres? Well, let’s revisit the post-war manufacturing facilities mentioned earlier. Is that family-run factory still operating under the family name? Have they grown in size and possibly incorporated, or heaven forbid, been bought by another corporation? How about the equipment inside? After 70 years are they still using the same presses and machinery? What about their production, has it increased at all? Many people look at the family farm in a picturesque, romantic country setting, and it can be. We are running a business, though. It’s our livelihood.
With the population of the world growing, we who are left on the farm must continue to become efficient and advance with modern technology. We still have the “Little A”. It received a final retirement gift in 2002 with a complete restoration. Next time you see modern day farm equipment working in a field, remember the “Little A” and celebrate the progress that has been achieved with each passing generation on the family farm.