Looking Back


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Jul 09, 2023

Looking Back

Some things never change but then again, some things do. As time marches on we see things come into fashion, and fall out of favor, only to become popular again years down the road. I wrote a few

Some things never change but then again, some things do. As time marches on we see things come into fashion, and fall out of favor, only to become popular again years down the road. I wrote a few weeks back about some things that have changed and evolved in agriculture over time, and I have been pondering change since then.

Late this fall I will turn 40 years old, that’s right, I am a 1983 model. My generation grew up in a time when we could see both sides of the technology gap. The first computer I remember seeing was a green-screen Apple computer. It was in my kindergarten class, and Mrs. Knoble was giving us a brief lesson about how to use it. It would be a couple more years before we actually did “use” a computer, but when we did, boy did we play Oregon Trail like it was going out of style. Unfortunately, I usually died of dysentery before I actually made it the whole way down the trail.

Cell phones weren’t even a thing yet, at least not in my world. We still had a rotary dial phone hanging on the wall of the living room, it had the optional 30-foot cord so you could fold laundry in the living room, or wash dishes at the kitchen sink while talking on the phone. And certainly, there was no calling from the field if you had troubles, no ordering more fertilizer or checking on parts like we can do today.

In those days my family farm used a lot of anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer on corn ground. Dad and Grandpa had a five-shank applicator bar that they pulled with a no cab, dualed up, 826 International Harvester. That was the main fertilizer rig till they bent the crank in the engine of that tractor, then we upgraded to the 7040 Allis. Now they had a cab and a seven-shank machine, talk about an upgrade. Dad even put a Calc-An-Acre in that tractor so he could track acres worked and have a reliable speed readout.

Back then you would set the application rate by doing some calculations that involved the size of your applicator, the spacing of the corn rows, and how fast you intended to pull the machine. And then you went for it, no prescription maps, and no variable rate. The only GPS we had at that time was looking at the power line pole at the end of the field and lining it up with the peak on the neighbor’s barn. That seems like a lifetime away from the machines of today that have swath control to help eliminate overlap, variable rate that reads prescription maps and applies just the right amount of fertilizer in the right spot in the field regardless of changes in speed, and GPS that allows the operator to check the markets and watch the performance of the machine on the way through the field.

Time kept ticking by and suddenly I was in high school. I had a black Camaro RS. It was a five-speed, with a throttle body 305. Not exactly a pavement shredder, but sufficient horsepower to get a high school boy into some light-duty trouble. The Camaro was built in 1988, slightly over 20 years old when it became mine, and to this day when someone says 20 years ago, I initially think of the 1980s. Dad had updated our haying operation by then, a Hesston self-propelled swather with a cab, air conditioning, and radio, it was quite an update. The air conditioning made Nebraska summers in the hay field enjoyable, and the simple radio was a welcome gift over the droning of a slant six Chrysler engine that powered the beast. The old sickle head on that swather cut nice, but it couldn’t dream of handling the 10 mile-per-hour plus speeds that disk mowers blaze across hay fields at today.

Those were good times indeed, the local radio station had “Paul Harvey News and Comment” at noon, and “The Rest of the Story” at 3:00. In the afternoon I would switch over to 880 KRVN and listen to Dave Thorell, then it was back to the local station, KUTT 99.5, for Denny Matthews and Kansas City Royals baseball. I had traded in Pearl snap shirts and Wranglers for Lucky jeans and No Fear t-shirts. This was back when Saturday Night Live was still funny, and Sunday afternoons, whether they were in the hayfield or the living room, found me cheering for Dale and the black number 3.

You can’t hold back the hands of time, and at that point in life I was doing everything I could to speed them up anyway. I was now a Dale Earnhardt Jr fan, and while I didn’t get a chance to listen to as much Royals baseball anymore, being a student at UNL did give me the chance to get to Husker baseball games. Pearl snap shirts were not only back, but a staple in my wardrobe. When I went to class I might be in a t-shirt, but when we went to the Pla Mor (a local dance hall just West of Lincoln) on Sunday nights I broke out the really good snap shirts. At that time most of my buddies on East Campus drove pickups because well why not, fuel economy came at the expense of being cool, and we wanted everyone to know we were country.

In one of the soil science classes in my junior year, we spent some time pulling a soil mapping sled. It seemed really far-fetched that this would be information we used to write fertilizer prescriptions with someday. In the fall we spent time gathering yield monitor data in an ag tech class. This was imported into a software program to map the field; we spent countless hours layering data and making recommendations as class projects on this field. If I’m going to be honest, I never thought this would really be anything most farmers cared about. But then again, I also never believed someday you wouldn’t be able to buy a new five-speed Camaro.

So here I sit in 2023, still wearing pearl snap shirts, and writing to you on a laptop that is tethered to the internet via my cell phone. In the morning I will simply unplug it and carry it one-handed with me back to work, making that old green screen Apple look like an artifact from Stuhr Museum. As technology progresses at a mind-numbing pace, I fear I am the one starting to be passed by. This has become all too apparent when I have to ask my 10-year-old for help with the T.V. and, speaking of technology, remember all those soil maps and yield data maps that I thought wouldn’t be a big deal? It turns out I spent almost four crop seasons using that type of information to help customers make educated and informed decisions about their crops. I guess it was important after all.

While I don’t hardly get a chance to catch a college or pro baseball game anymore, this summer I was able to watch my own two boys and their teammates take third place in their baseball tournament. This was way more fun, and way more nerve-racking, than any Husker baseball game I’ve been to.

Sadly, all the NASCAR drivers I followed as a young man have retired, and so too have Paul Harvey and Dave Thorell gone missing from my radio. And yet, as I look around it is fun to see the things that are still popular. While I’m not sure anyone is listening to Jock Jams on a Pioneer CD player in their vehicle anymore, it is clear that young people still like knee socks and Adidas slides (I think we just called them sandals?), loud pickups and snap shirts, and hanging out with their friends. Looking back into time does give me a sense of nostalgia, but also makes it fun to watch the future adults living out what will be their fond memories, right now. Nothing stays the same, but would you want it any different?

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