In 1923, Case introduced a row crop tractor — the Farmall Regular — to the market. Three years later, Central Illinois Ag began selling them. Since then, farming has evolved to become big business.
In the 1930s, one farmer supplied nearly 10 people in the U.S. and abroad with food. By the 1960s, the number was up to about 26 people per farmer. The number nearly tripled by 1970, with one farmer supplying 76 people with food.
Today’s farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide — thanks largely to innovations in farming technology.
Going from field work with horse-drawn equipment to tractors and other motorized equipment has given farmers time to plant more — and plant smarter. The science has evolved into biotechnology, and it allows farmers to plan, grow and protect crops for higher yields that can feed a growing world population of 7 billion.
Central Illinois Ag’s marketing coordinator Abby Coers says equipment such as the Quadtrac tractors her company sells helps increase yields by causing less soil compaction and allows for smaller rows in the fields. Where farmers of the past used to plant 38- to 40-inch rows, they are now able to plant them in 20-inch increments, she says.
With tractors on the market that have precision components such as field (which eliminates steering in open fields) and layered maps that graph hybrid analysis, plant populations, soil topography, and moisture, farmers can now get planting down to a strict science.
Rush Olson, precision planting specialist at Central Illinois Ag, says predicting crop yield is serious business and yield maps are an important aspect of precision farming.
“They (farmers) can see which hybrids are doing better on which soil,” Olson says.
Cost efficiency is increased when farmers take a scientific approach — and it’s a lot of work, Olson says. There are long-term decisions such as crop rotation strategies and temporal yield stability. There are intermediate decisions, such as fertilizer and pesticide applications and variety selections for the next growing season. Farmers also make short-term decisions on field and plant conditions during the growing season. All of the decisions depend on the mapping.
Olson says 94 percent of farms in Illinois are family-owned and operated and there’s an awareness that family-owned farms are important to the economic viability of agriculture and the promotion of safe and healthy foods.
To keep family farms sustainable and profitable, farms must use every possible resource to create success. It’s a balancing act between mortgage/lease payments, equipment, tools, staff, and seed.
“We’re pushing the technology side of this industry,” Olson said. “The way input costs are now, we have to be as precise as we can be. We’re farming by the seed.”