I was looking through the Yearbook of Agriculture 1938 published by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The special emphasis of the 1938 edition was "Soils and Men."
Even though the book was compiled 75 years ago, the many articles it had were well written. The articles gave principals of farming that are still useful today. The book also has a historical purpose in that it told some of the concerns and methods of farming in that era.
Henry A. Wallace wrote the forward to the 1938 edition. He was Secretary of Agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-1940, U. S. Vice President 1941- 1945, and Secretary of Commerce 1945-1946.
Mr. Wallace wrote in the forward, "The soil requires a duty of man which we have been slow to recognize. In this book the effort has been made to discover man's debt and duty to the soil."
The part of the book I am writing about today are two articles on tillage. I found that the purposes and methods of tillage in 1938 were much the same as what I remember in the 1940's.
The purposes given for tillage were to prepare a seedbed, control weeds, insects, and plant diseases, and improve the physical condition of the soil.
Conventional tillage in 1938 was expected to be very clean and not leave much residue on the top surface of the soil. It removed the cover of vegetation that protected the soil from washing away or blowing away.
During the years since 1938, tillage methods and machines have been developed that leave more crop residue on top of the soil.
In 1938, moldboard plowing was considered the primary tillage operation. A picture of a walk-behind plow is a well known symbol of agriculture and labor. The plow turn the soil over and pulverizes it so it cam be smoothed down for planting.
In 1938, some plowing was done with draft horses and some done with tractors. Most of the photos in the articles showed tractors and implements with steel wheels. One of the articles mentioned that rubber tires were coming into use on tractors, and that made faster speeds possible for tillage operations. In 1938, our tractor has steel wheels.
The article indicated that one-third of the total required pulling power for all tillage operations in a field was used in plowing the field. This was true whether the farmer used animal power or tractor power.
After plowing a disk harrow was often used to break up the clods and make a smooth seedbed. In the 1940's, when it was close to planting time, we would hook a spike-tooth harrow behind the disk harrow and do two operations at once. We pulled it with a Farmall F-30 tractor. It really smoothed the field down nice (That tractor had rubber tires).
Another tillage implement was the spring tooth harrow, used in the summer to control small weeds. A field cultivator with sweep shovels was used for this same purpose.
Around Perkins in the 1960's and 1970's the Graham-Hoame heavy field cultivator was used. After the wheat was harvested in June, moldboard plowing was omitted. The stubble field was disked. Then later the Hoame cultivator was used at least twice during the summer. This left more crop residue on top of the soil.
A corrugated roller packer was sometimes used to firm up a seedbed for alfalfa. A larger machine of that nature is being used this month to firm and pack the new roadway south of Perkins for the new river bridge.
In 2013, there are a variety of methods a farmer can use to prepare for planting a crop. The traditional method of 1938 is still one of the options. Each farmer can select what works best for himself.
Two of the considerations are laving less tillage and leaving more residue on top of the soil. Secretary Henry A. Wallace would commend methods that protect soil from erosion.
Another method is the no-till method, which would have been considered strange in 1938. With it the only tillage used is the planting machine cutting into the soil to place the seed. In some cases crop rotation is required with no-till.
The no-till method saves soil from erosion, saves moisture, saves fuel, saves time, saves wear and tear on tractor and equipment. It cuts down on exhaust emissions into the atmosphere.
One objection an environmentalist might have to no-till is the use of herbicides to control undesired vegetation, but herbicides can be used carefully, so problems can be minimized.