Farmer Diary: Old farming gives way to new farming

Farm Forum

Editor’s note: American News contributor John Papendick is spending his summer helping on the family farm in Faulk County. He is writing about his adventures in a series of columns.

Fifty years is a long time between farm gigs.

When I rolled up to the Faulk County farmyard where I am spending my summer, I felt like I had landed in outer space.

It looked familiar, yet foreign.

Some of the smells (a nearby cornfield), sounds (cows mooing) and sights (a tractor hauling hay rolling by on a dirt road and kicking up dust) were the same as when I grew up on a farm in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Then some of today’s modern equipment came rolling out. A payloader, a skid steer, four-wheelers and semi trailers were appearing all around me.

It was days before a tractor came into play on our family farm.

Here are my impressions, right or wrong, of how some of the equipment has changed over the years:

• When I was growing up, tractors were all the rage (even though a neighbor was still farming with horses). A shiny, new tractor never showed up at our farm, and rarely seemed to show up at any of our neighbors’ farms.

You made due, and fixed what you had.

These days, from my limited understanding, there are years when it is advantageous financially for farmers to trade in the old for the new. Believe me, there is still plenty of the old stuff around and in use along with making due by fixing the old.

Sometimes, nothing does a job like an old tractor from the past. Decades-old equipment is like a longtime, trusted friend who rarely lets you down.

And when they do, it is easy to forgive them because you know they are putting their best wheel forward.

Then, of course, there are the farmyards full of modern equipment. Some would make you think a construction company owner lives there rather than a farmer or rancher.

• To me, the skid steer is a modern-day version of a tractor. I clearly am fascinated by the skid steer and its versatility.

Almost every farmer I hear talking seems to mention his or her skid steer at some point. It seems I am as likely to hear skid steer as tractor.

• Four-wheelers are the new pickups. Four-wheelers seem to be the field workhorses rather than pickups.

• Not every farm has a payloader, but they are not uncommon either. I saw six payloaders working six different farms one day. A payloader to me is like a 1960s tractor and loader on steroids.

In the hands of a skilled operator, a payloader can get an enormous amount of work done in a day.

And like the skid steer, a payloader has numerous attachments, so a loader with a grapple fork is just one of many of its uses.

• In my day, we had what we thought of as a big grain truck, along with grain wagons. Today, semis are a part of daily farm life, along with huge grain carts that make the grain wagons of old look tiny.

It probably happened, but personally, I never remember one semi pulling into the farmyard where I grew up.

Today’s hauling farmers always seem to be talking strategies and planning for the metrics in fields that are being harvested, bin sites and farmyards. Their semis need room to turn, maneuver and have access.

It is amazing to listen to farmers talk these days. Sometimes, I feel like I am listening to a foreign language, and it is great to understand bits and pieces when they say words like “tractor,” “cow” or “acre.”

All terms from my youth, and one of the seemingly rare things that have not changed down on the farm.

Longtime South Dakota journalist John Papendick is a freelance writer, public speaker and seeker of new life experiences. Email: