There I was sitting quietly at a 30th wedding anniversary party for a local farm couple, Charlie and Becky Canary. Naturally, there were several other farmers gathered in the church basement, eating cake and drinking punch. Many of them were about the Canary's age, having worked with them in various capacities - friends, neighbors, as fellow young farmers in various groups.
It was the day after the National Farm Machinery Show concluded in Louisville. Nearly everyone had attended and fought huge crows to see whatever caught their eye. Obviously our doom and gloom economy hasn't taken away the optimistic spirit of farmers yet - they want to see what's new and what's coming down the road.
Soon the conversation turned to planters. In particularly, it turned to very big planters. "Did you see the 48-row planter?" one asked.
"Oh yes," the other responded. "Everybody was talking about it. Somebody else built the bar but it had Deere units on it."
"What kind of units," I asked. "It turned out they were Deere's latest, state-of-the-art air units.
"And it was even rigged up so you could apply fertilizer," another added.
How did it fold to go down the road, I wondered? I soon found out. "Well, it actually folds two ways, first in on itself and then it folds around," one explained. I'm not a mechanic so my head was spinning trying to picture this, but I took his word for it. Imagine meeting 48 rows on the road, coming at you, even if it is folded into a neat package. That's still a lot of iron and steel in one package.
I decided to have some fun. "So which one of you is going to buy one first?," I asked.
All three laughed. One spoke up. "I've got a five-acre field I couldn't even make a round in - it would all be point rows."
Then the deciphering began. With 48 rows on 30-inch centers, that's 1,440 inches, or 120 feet wide, or 7.2 rods. When I grew up, we still had several fields that were 40 rods wide and fenced. That means I couldn't have even made three full rounds! The field sure seemed bigger planting it with a four row back then.
What made the conversation all the more interesting was that the census report just released by the Indiana Ag Statistics Service said average farm size in Indiana actually dropped slightly. The number of farms was also leveling off. Obviously, Deere wasn't backing on the Indiana census to sell 48-row planters.
What the census really said was that there were more small farm operations, working niche markets, and more on the larger-end farms, with fewer in the middle-range. The three guys I chatted with would be classified in the mid-range by today's standards. But everybody likes to dream.
"It sure was big," one concluded.
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