Mike Henderson on Tractors
When I started in 1970, for arguments sake, down at Wellow Manor there, there was six of us full time, we each had our own tractor, we each had our own plough, cultivator, there were three seed drills and three sprayers and three fertilizer sprayers and then gradually as time went on, the horse power went up of the tractors, the work force became less.
We went from six … after I’d been there about five years, we went to five full time and then a few years later we went to four full time and well in that time we’d gone from three 10 feet cut combines to one 17 feet cut combine which would outperform the three 10 feet by a mile and then the work force gradually dropped to three over the years.
We then stayed with one combine harvester, reduced the number of tractors so we had one combine harvester with a 20 feet cut, three 150 horsepower tractors, and a couple of smaller ones to do a bit of spraying and fertilizer spreading and three full time and it stayed like that for a great many years and then the workforce was reduced to two full time with a third coming in harvest and autumn and that’s still the same down there now.
But of course tractors got more efficient, more powerful obviously so you could pull bigger implements so you had less of them and the sprayer, I would have said 20 years ago now they’ve changed down there from two sprayers mounted on tractors to one self-propelled. That was 80 feet wide then, so that really allowed you to do 500 acres of spraying a day, just one machine.
So that’s how, from my point of view, it’s advanced and it’s advanced to the point now where you’ve got combines that basically you push a button and it will steer itself, GPS, certain makes you can set up a set of parameters of how you want that combine to perform. Enter that into the computer and just sit back and you can read a book while you’re going up and down. All you’ve got to do is turn round at ends, but they keep saying … well there are driverless tractors about now.
I think it’s more in America at the moment but I’ve always maintained that no matter how good a driverless tractor is, if it gets a problem, you need a person to go and sort it out so there’s always going to have to be somebody on the farm but I can see in the future maybe there’s a vastly reduced workforce and it will be a technician sat in an office that does the farming.
I hope not because I think human input is vital for the industry. You know without it I think we’ve had it. But yes, I mean the amount of work that one man can achieve now is remarkable.