Mark Smith

Mark Smith

  • United States, TN, Cumberland City
Mark Smith Cumberland City, TN
Mar 25


Ok - so I have had to take some time away from #AgHistory as I myself am getting my own farm ready for the season, and working in between boughts of bad weather. As a side note, my grandpappy used to say one is never nearer to God than when farming (because we are always praying for something - better weather, more rain, less rain, etc.). While I am adopting no-till on my farm, I have had to break ground none-the-less in order to eliminate some resistant plow pan in certain parts of my small field. Being on a budget, I had to borrow the neighbors 2 bottom plow (an older international harvester of amazing quality). Tuning that to the depth I had hoped to plow took longer than I thought, and this no longer had coulters (and the landside was well worn). At least the furrow wheel was functional. My first time with a traditional plow was a hot mess, and this time I was reminded of how much pride must have been had in ones ability to keep tight and true rows (I do not yet have that proficiency - Ha!). I was also reminded of how challenging the first settlers livelihoods were during this country's settlement. The pilgrims had no plows for the first 12 years (only hoes and mattocks). In 1636, there were only 30 plows in all of the Massachusettss Bay Colony. Plows were mentioned in the inventories of only 16 of 58 estates in Essex County from 1636. A century later they were far more common, but made of wood. Even after the shares were made of iron, the moldboard was still made of wood. Additionally, these were all locally made, and subject to the whims of local ploughwright. Often, these would require 2 men and a boy to plow; one to manhandle the plow, one to continually force the plow into the ground by riding the beam, and the boy to scrape mud from the moldboard. Later, in 1798 Thomas Jefferson mathematically proved that a general design for a plow could be mass produced for use everywhere (letter to Sir John Sinclair, printed in the American Philosophical Society in 1799). In 1797 designed a cast iron plow that was never accepted, in part because it was said that cast iron poisoned the soil and promoted weed growth. With what we now know about our weed-banks, the second myth may actually have had some truth to it as this plow undoubtedly turned soil more efficiently. Note that it wasnt until 1839 that a moldboard was designed to actually turn and pulverize the soil (Samuel Witherow and David Pierce). Fast forward, and we can see in hindsight how these developments improved our abilities to feed our families and society. In 1830, when grain was sown by hand it required 55.7 man-hours (per acre) to sow and harvest wheat. In 1896, with horse drawn equipment the same took 8.8 man-hours. In 1930 using a tractor and drill it took only 3.3 man-hours. SO much more can be said on the subject, and I would argue that there is no other single area of specialization than this which has permitted the growth and health of our nation.


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