Lesser Moments in Agriculture
Our profession has known some pivotal events in its glorious history. The Homestead Act, the introduction of fertilizer, the invention of the cow, the reaper, hybrid seed corn, the tractor, the seed corn cap - all seminal occurrences that directed the path of agricultural progress. Interspersed with these, however, were those instances when the march of progress stopped to take a stone out of its collective shoe, a hiccup in the saga of the advancement of farming. These happenings, although justifiably ignored by serious ag historians, have had profound impact on farmers’ lives, and deserve to be brought to light by a commentator of (what can I say?) some considerable weight.
Lesser Moment Number One - Hydraulic Destiny
April 31, 1947: [Somewhere in Chicago at the Farm Machinery Association, Grand High Executive Potentates Council, several beers after 11 pm.] Chairman: Next item on the agenda - “Standardized Remote Hydraulic Fittings”. Now boys, we’ve been over this and over this. Currently there are 43 different kinds of couplers being manufactured and our customers are getting confused.
Company Rep #1: While it would be better for farmers to have a uniform, simple way of hooking up hydraulics, we mustn’t rush into this. How do we know which type is best without thirty of forty years of field experience? Company Rep #2: Right. In the meantime, we can help our customers by selling them thousands of adapters, which, I might add, have a profit margin of (whisper, whisper).
All: (excitedly) (whisper, mumble, whisper) (giggle, giggle)
Company Rep #3: (speculatively) You know...., if we were to start using two or three different thread pitches and change styles completely every five or six years, we could maximize our profi-, I mean, field data before settling on one style in, say, 1985 or so.
Chairman: (shouting above the cheering and belching) Gad! I love this business. Drinks on the treasury!
Lesser Moment Number Two - The Great Patriotic Wire
February 8, 1943 - [Pothole, Nebraska]
Son: Jeepers, Dad! These “bale” things are great. It sure beats a pitchfork, and we can store a lot more hay in the barn now. But, what should I do with these loops of wire?
Copyright 1997 John Phipps
Dad: Just more junk to throw away I guess. Come over here and help me fix this gate. It keeps falling over.
Son: (after struggling with the gate for several minutes) Man! This just isn’t working. If only we had something we could sort of tie it up to the posts with. Wait a minute! What about those bale wires?
Dad: Sounds crazy, but it just might work. This will only be temporary, of course. We’ll come back tomorrow first thing and fix it right.
Son: Absolutely, Dad. We wouldn’t want our whole farm to be held together with wire. Ha, ha, ha!
Lesser Moment Number Three - Overheads Up
November 23, 1962 - [The University of Northern South Dakota, College Of Agriculture, Division of Ag Economics]
Prof. Weems: Whoa, Finster. Whatcha got there?
Prof. Finster: Oh, nothing much. Just a revolution in the whole field of ag economics.
Weems: Right. I believe you said the same thing about your so-called “cash flow plan”, and we all know how far that went.
Finster: This time is different. This little baby is a genuine “Overhead Projector”, and its going to set the winter ag meeting circuit on its ear. Weems: How so?
Finster: (getting excited) Well, according to the salesman, you just plug this thing into a nearby outlet (it only needs a short cord) and you can lay these easy-to-handle sheets called transparencies on the top and they are projected up on the screen. It’s practically foolproof, impossible to get the sheets on wrong, and the bulbs are cool and last practically forever. But the best part is that you can draw and write all over your charts and graphs, making them even clearer to your audiences. They make special pencils that are extra- legible and smudge-proof. No more clumsy slides or messy chalkboards. Those farmers won’t know what hit’em.
Weems: Gosh, it really does sound great. Boy, if this won’t keep farmers awake and excited in a warm dark meeting room after lunch, nothing will. Finster: Oh yeah. I think it is safe to say that ag economics will never be the same. This technology is going to make color TV seem dull and lifeless by comparison. Finally, we economists will be able to put the same sparkle and zoom in our lectures as the entomology boys with their fancy-pancy “larva slides”.
Weems: (running after Finster) I’ve got to have one! Finny, old buddy, wait. I’ll trade you my autographed picture of John Maynard Keynes...
Real history, because it is made by real people, is seldom pretty.