The increase in farm equipment technology has changed everything about farming. One hundred years ago, farmers relied solely on animal and manual labor to do all the work required. The size of a farm and the farm’s output were directly related to the number of animals they had and the number of laborers they were able to employ. The more animals and laborers, the more land they were able to farm and vice versa. Fast forward to the present day, farmers now have an abundance of technology at their disposal – from GPS systems to automated equipment including, for some, drones. This allows farmers to work more land with less help while producing more crops.
As Roger Anderson told us, the relationship between technology and labor is the key to understanding farming economies historically. “I don’t know if you want to call it ambition or greed, the whole object of the game is to produce as much as you can to make as much money as you can. That’s what business is. As technology became available it enabled farms to do more work with less time and less help and so therefore it saved money cause you didn’t have to hire as much help.”
Older farmers who have children that work on their farms benefit by having more hands able to help. Meanwhile, the younger generations grow up with newer technology and naturally become more tech savvy than their parents. In turn, these young farmers are exposed to the idea of new technology and are able to explore the possible benefits from it. Roger Anderson described how his son pushed him to adopt new technology and change family farming methods. This dynamic, Roger explained, is deeply embedded in the history of family farming. He told us that when he was a learning to farm with his father, he pushed his father the same way his son has pushed him.
MA: “As sad as that is to say. What I see are the guys this age, all of our friends this age, that have sons that are still involved with the home farming or wanting to come back like our son they’re pushing dad a little farther into doing things that…”
RA: “Out of my comfort zone that I was perfectly doing the way I’ve always done them but he’s pushing me. My son’s pushing me a little bit to try some different things cause...but then I pushed my dad to do some different things that he didn’t want to do.”
MA: “Oh yeah, that’s so true.”
RA: “I was doing the same thing. I pushed him into getting bigger and milking more cows and getting some bigger equipment, and we did a lot of things he had never thought about doing but if you want your kids to stick around and be with you, you kind of have to go along with them a little bit you know. So…”
The importance of this relationship between Roger and his child, of father and son on a farm, is impossible to overstate. Similar relationships exist between father and daughter and between mother and son or daughter. As the children grow up, the parent shows them the ropes of owning and working a farm. By the time these children become adults, their parents may initiate discussions about adopting changes to improve the land and revise farming strategies. A University of Wisconsin study by Eugene Wilkening examined the unique relationship between the farm parent and children (Wilkening focused on that between father and child). What Wilkening found was that fathers who discussed the possibility of adopting new practices with their children were more likely to change than those who did not.
The economics of farming are more about interpersonal family relationships and the weight of traditions than it might appear. The benefits from the increase in farm equipment technology may seem clear, but changing the way things have been done around a farm is difficult. The parent-child relationship is a special one, especially on a farm.