Farming and farm equipment have changed dramatically from the early days when settlers first came to America. At that time agriculture consisted of clearing the land of trees and brush, tilling the land with a plough, and planting a single crop over and over until the land was depleted. Once the land was barren and failed to produce a crop the settlers just pulled up stakes and moved west to the next piece of land. Even as the country rapidly expanded west farming continued to evolve. In 1850 John Deere introduced a new steel plough that made tilling the sticky soils of the prairie a breeze. These ploughs were so popular that the John Deere company were selling 10,000 of them a year. But as knowledge of conservation increased over the years older methods were gradually set aside and new scientific crop management techniques were introduced to preserve and protect the land. The biggest change that was seen in agriculture as a consequence of these new ideas has been the gradual elimination of constantly tilled fields and single crop farms.
Crops that were initially planted in early America were mostly borrowed from the native Indians and included maize, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squashes, beans, grains, berries, tobacco, and cotton. In the South the cash crops were cotton and tobacco. As crop farming developed harvesting farm equipment and machinery also evolved. The introduction of the combine was a major leap forward in this technology. The combine was a self-propelled machine that generally cut and threshed grain in one step. This machine increased grain production in America radically and after its introduction and adoption the United States began to get the nickname “the breadbasket of the world.”
The idea of tilling the ground with a plow also came under more scrutiny. Plows, once a farm equipment staple, began to be used less and less as the idea of reducing tillage to preserve the soil and eliminate erosion began to take hold. To replace the till a new implement the disk harrow came into being. The harrow did break up the soil for planting but it did less damage than the plow and its use along with the use of automated seed planters allowed the new American farmer to plant many more acres of crops than his ancestors. Even harrowing the ground is being slowly replaced by a new farming method called zero tillage or direct planting. This technique is a way for growing crops without disturbing the soil, which increases the amount of water and organic material in the soil. It also decreases erosion and increases the variety of life in and on the soil.
In the south tobacco was the cash crop. This, however, evolved and the planting of tobacco as a cash crop was eventually replaced by cotton. All planting and harvesting of cotton was an extremely labor intensive enterprise. Cotton was always manually planted and at harvest each cotton ball was manually picked. Because of this the harvest of a cotton crop could literally take weeks to finish. This all changed when the cotton picker was introduced in 1850. With the introduction of the picker and the use of the cotton gin for processing the cotton, using manual labor to harvest a cotton crop was no longer needed. As a consequence of this new farm equipment cotton production made a giant leap forward.