Modern machinery and the markets
Experiences this week reinforced in my mind just how far behind the times my thinking has become in the short six years I have been "almost" retired. When I retired in 2003, I was farming a thousand acres and owned six tractors. When I cut back, I sold the two newest tractors, built in 1989, and kept the older ones. I kept just enough equipment to farm the 220 acres Sharon and I own.
The remaining four tractors include the 1946 Oliver that is on the front of my website. It is my parade tractor since it does very little that could be classified as work. My 1953 Ford NAA is small but is used almost every day for some chore or other. I discovered just how important it is to my operation this week when I had to have the carburetor repaired and it was out of business for three days. The third tractor is an Allis Chalmers 190XT built in 1967. It was a workhorse from when I bought it used in 1973 until I bought the John Deere 4250 in 1989. Today it is in the shop getting the engine overhauled for the first time since 1975. I haven't used it much since 1995 but age took its toll on the sleeve seals, necessitating major engine work. I am going to have $5000 invested in the repairs. When they are done, the tractor should last as long as I do.
The major power on my farm is the 4440 Deere I bought in 1983. It is plenty big for the size of my farm. However, I never have to wonder if it has enough muscle and it is very comfortable to drive. Besides, it has long since been depreciated out so the only costs are for fuel and oil, along with occasional minor repairs.
The common thread among these tractors is that they were all made with very few electronics. Of course they have electric starters. The two bigger ones have lights and warning flashers. Gauges are simple sending units and dashboard displays. Planting soybeans the last two weeks has me thankful that I don't rely on more electronics on my tractors. The seed monitor on my 1993 vintage planter drove me crazy trying to figure out why the monitor said two rows were not planting when in fact they were.
I finally gave in and replaced the two seed sending units even though the tester said that they were good. With new sensors installed, the monitor started telling the truth again.
A year ago this month, I offered to help a neighbor finish his soybean planting in the event he didn't finish by the time he was planning to leave on a once in a lifetime trip to Europe. His wife was attending a conference and he had the chance to go along. He thought that help on the farm wouldn't be necessary, but a rainy spell at the end of May put him behind in planting. He invited me to his shop to learn how to run his new front wheel assist tractor and 12 row planter.
When I got into the cab for my lesson, I was shocked to see six monitor screens. Four were for the tractor and two for the planter. The planter consoles didn't bother me much, because they looked similar to the one I have for my six row. However, the monitors for the tractor took a while for me to decipher. As I thought about this experience last week, I wonder if the modern electronic tractors will still be running when they are as old as my trusty 4440. The electronics are convenient and no doubt add to the efficiency of the tractor, at least while it is relatively new. However, there is nothing on these new machines I can repair myself.