The Changing Farm

The advancement of technology has changed many things. In my life, in terms of entertainment, I listen to a lot of music. First on records, then cassettes, CDs and now I can download whichever individual single I want. In the kitchen, things have also changed. I remember when we got our first microwave. That thing was so big and heavy Mom was worried if the shelf Grandpa made was strong enough to hold it. It sure makes the one I have in my kitchen today look puny.

I also remember changes happening on the farm. The old plow was retired to the back shed because new tillage practices such as soil saving and no-till showed decreases in soil erosion. The cultivator was also retired because new herbicides were created to kill the weeds effectively. I didn’t have to walk the beans anymore!

One of my dad’s favorite hybrids was Cargill’s 4327. But then better producing hybrids were developed. Change is always constant. This spring as I prepped the field for planting, I was guided by GPS. The GPS beeped if I was too close to the ground I had already tilled with the field conditioner. It made my responsibility of making sure I wasn’t overlapping easier and I’m sure we saved fuel. Sitting in the tractor, going back and forth across the field, I had time to think about the changes on our family farm and the neighbor’s farm.

Looking back toward our farm, there is an old windmill. All that remains is the tail. It still tells wind direction very well. At one time, that windmill stood tall capturing the wind energy to pump water from the well to fill the cattle tank. Windmills are disappearing from the northeast Iowa landscape but wind turbines are coming in their place. To produce an alternative energy resource, these wind turbines are producing 31% of the electricity used in Iowa. Several locations in Iowa are producing these turbines, such as the community of Newton. Jasper County Historical Society Museum has a fabulous display on the history and manufacturing of windmills and have expanded the story to include wind turbines!

Speaking of electricity, did you know the first power station to bring electricity to rural residents west of the Mississippi River is in Iowa? To be more specific, the plant is located in Franklin County, west of the community of Hampton. The plant was operational from 1938-1950 becoming a backup system into the 1970s. For you history buffs, the start of this system was right before the beginning of WWII. Not all that long ago when you are talking about this taking place during the lifetime of my grandparents. Electricity greatly impacted how long it took to do certain household chores, for example laundry. Usually one day was dedicated to laundry before electricity. How often do you put a load of laundry in now? Visit the Franklin County Historical Society to arrange a tour of the REA Plant and learn more ways on how life was changed with electricity coming to the farm.


As I’m sitting in this AGCO 9765 tractor, I’m thinking of the changes in the tractor industry. My first tractor was an International 986. The first tractor on the farm was a Farmall M. If you know your tractors, you know there is a great difference between those three tractors. Tractors and Iowa go hand in hand. The very first tractor was made by John Froelich near McGregor. This tractor could move forwards and backwards. It caught so much attention, John Deere bought the tractor and built his empire. You can see a replica of this first tractor by visiting the Froelich 1890 Village Museum. We have several other Partner Sites where you can see the dramatic changes in the tractor industry. Heartland Museum, Clarion, has huge steam engine tractors on display. The Floyd County Museum in Charles City, Home of the Tractor Industry, has several Hart-Parr, Oliver and White models. kinze-innovation-center-474-lghtbxIf you want to see new technology at work visit, the Kinze Innovation Center and see how driverless tractors are underway. You may also contact the John Deere Tractor Cab Assembly in Waterloo and see a tractor built from start to finish.

The neighbor’s farm, which I am at, has an old dairy barn. The barn, in and of itself, has an interesting history. But my thoughts drift to the milkingBrown Swiss cattle that used to be raised here. In the dairy industry, the Brown Swiss is not as common as the black and white Holsteins are today. Here, neighbor Bob milked in tie down stalls by hand twice a day. Now, our partner site the Iowa Dairy Center, is using robots to milk their cows. The cows roam around a free-stall barn deciding for themselves when they want to be milked. This is one of my favorite places to visit. Go today!

Advances in science and technology have made drastic changes in agriculture and the way we all live in general. Very few locations can demonstrate these changes in one location. We are fortunate in Iowa to have Living History Farms in Urbandale. Here, you may see the changes on farms and how things progressed over time as you travel from a 1700 Ioway Farm, 1850 Pioneer Farm, 1900 Farm to 1875 town. What adds to the experience are the presenters are all in period costume and speak as of that era.

I haven’t even had time to mention the people that brought about great change. Norman Borlaug, Henry A. Wallace, Herbert Hoover. We have places to visit about these individuals as well.

The need to produce more with less resources while keeping it affordable for consumers has been a driving force behind many of the changes observed and continuing to take place in agriculture.

-Laura,    Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

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