Tuesday 11 October 2016

Lost farming skills

A couple of weeks ago I watched a huge John Deere tractor direct drilling winter wheat into the stubble of the previous bean crop. A process that used to involve at least ploughing, cultivating, drilling and rolling is now done in one pass by a tractor that is computer controlled and guided by a GPS system. The driver was there presumably to switch the machine on and off and to take it home on the road.

I used to think that farm workers were some of the most skilled people who had a vast fund of knowledge gained largely informally by experience over lifetimes. Computers and robotics de-skill the workforce so that they become machine minders, there to deal with malfunctions and breakdowns. Not much better than working in a call centre.

Do it "wrong" and there's a good chance the horse will bolt forward and
kick up her heels
 flattening you when you release her
A horseman would have been the equivalent of that tractor minder a hundred years ago. Now how many people could turn a horse and cart into a field without taking out the gate post; or put a horse between the shafts of a cart and then load the cart safely. A gang of five or six of us used to "single" turnips by hand with hoes.  What would happen if cyber warfare hackers destroyed the GPS or control software? Just in case, I thought I'd show you how some of these things are done. I found them in an old training manual for the," Women's Land Army" published in 1941.

I'll hang on to it, you never know when it might be needed again.

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