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2018 Is Year of the Tractor at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Where would you find a 1918 Waterloo Boy tractor, a grain sickle from the 1900s, and a first-generation GPS receiver together? Only at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The museum is celebrating 2018 as the Year of the Tractor with two new displays showcasing the past, present, and future of agriculture within the American Enterprise exhibition.

“History is best when iconic objects and anniversary dates coincide,” says Peter Liebhold, the museum’s agriculture curator. “Making 2018 the year of the tractor gives the public an opportunity to appreciate the past, learn insight about the process of innovation, and the unintended consequences of change.”

A green, yellow, and red 1918 Waterloo Boy tractor is on display, marking the 100th anniversary of Deere and Company’s entry into the tractor market with the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. in 1918. The exhibit highlights the introduction of light-weight, gasoline-powered tractors, a major revolution in agriculture that moved farming into the world of commercial production. Historical images and advertisements marketing the 1918 tractor are also featured. One image showcases a drone flying over a Kansas corn field, providing a glimpse into the future of agricultural technologies.

A new display titled “Precision Farming” tells a more modern story of how far farmers have come in adopting new technologies that are also changing agricultural practices. In the late 1990s, location-tracking technology, such as GPS, launched a different agricultural innovation. U.S. farmers began using the technology to see bigger variations within their fields and livestock.

“The linkage between the Waterloo Boy and the innovation of light weight tractors in 1918 with the Precision Farming display is a natural,” says Liebhold. “Both exhibitions provide insight into agricultural revolutions.”

Key objects displaying the growth of agricultural innovation include a GPS receiver, a crop yield monitor from 1996, a cow neck tag with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) transponder from the 1980s, and a grain sickle from the early 1900s.


Featured Farmers

The Precision Farming display features four farmers from Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho, and Iowa who are examples of early adopters of precision farming equipment.

Roy Bardole is a third-generation farmer growing corn and soybeans in Rippey, Iowa. Like many Midwestern farmers, Bardole’s first precision farming purchase was auto-steer for his tractor and combine. “From GPS equipment, crop yield monitors, and other devices, Bardole turned his combine cab into an information control center,” says Liebhold.

A dairy farmer in Carpenter, Wyoming, Kim Burnett is committed to precision farming. As animal health is critical in the dairy industry, every cow at Burnett Enterprises wears a computer chip on its neck with a number. Liebhold says the computer systems allow the Burnetts to run reports on cows dropping in production, identify those needing checked, and allows them to find cows in the incorrect pens.

Robert Blair of Kendrick, Idaho, uses drones, GPS equipment, yield monitors, and other devices to create a new way of seeing and managing his wheat fields. “With the use of his drone, Blair can take high resolution photos of crops and fields,” says Liebhold. “These can help him determine what areas need more care or nitrogen, allowing Blair to save money and avoid over fertilizing.”

Fifth generations farmers Zach and Anna Hunnicutt rely on center pivot irrigation systems to grow popcorn, soybeans, and wheat in their fields near Giltner, Nebraska. “The variable rate application of seed, water, fertilizer, and pesticides helps the Hunnicutts make their farming operation efficient and environmentally strong,” says Liebhold. Using soil moisture sensors and sprinkler controls, the Hunnicutt’s irrigation system conserves the amount of water needed to turn dry soils into productive farm fields.

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