Good Directions

Monday, Aug. 6, 2018

By Ryan Zelhart
District 11
Young Leader Committee Member

It is almost instinct these days when heading to a new location to pull out your smartphone and punch in the address.

But do we ever stop to think how often we take technology for granted?  

Before navigation, we gave directions by landmarks.

“Turn right at the red barn.”

“Turn and head north at Farmer Bob’s silos.”

“Follow the jog to the hard road.”

These days, it just seems easier to drop a pin and share our location. It is also a shot in the dark if that red barn or silo are still there to reference as landmarks.

Just like our “rural directions” are changing, so is the direction of agriculture. With each generation that passes on the farm, the landscape of the farm changes.

From my grandparents to my dad, the red barns and corn cribs that used to stand tall and proud have most likely been demolished or abandoned. Now the direction is moving toward modern day buildings with amenities like heated shops with concrete floors, technology-driven livestock facilities and automated grain-handling systems.

From my dad to me, we have seen growth in wind energy. Windmills were once a farmstead staple used as a water pump or to grind feed. These traditional picturesque structures featured galvanized fan blades, which now seem to be featured on DIY channels as retro farmhouse decor. Modern day wind turbines have recently transformed the landscape across parts of District 11 and many parts of our state. They are made up of industrial steel and fiberglass fan blades, towering at the height of nearly 400 feet with blade tip speeds pushing 100 mph. These turbines are loaded up with electronic sensors that are all monitored and controlled from a remote location. Today, rather than a farmstead landmark, wind turbines are a region-wide characteristic.    

The direction that our farm equipment has taken is simply remarkable. We have the ability to plant perfectly straight rows with picket-fence seed spacing, all while traveling across the field at 10 mph. Irregularly-shaped fields with rounds and rounds of point rows? Section control has mastered that and left us with less seed and chemical costs from overapplying. Our methods of harvesting have greatly changed as well. From putting up ear corn in a crib and having neighborhood hand shelling “parties,” to now having instantaneous yield data at our fingertips as we harvest our crop to make better business decisions for next year’s crop.

In a world where we are rapidly changing and always wanting more, it is also humbling to remember what was before us. Although the landscape and landmarks may change, the mark in the history of agriculture is permanent. For the generations to follow me, there is a prosperous future ahead.