3 Jun 2008

Colyton: the wonder of tractors

A week or so ago I visited my parents in Devon and it was the famous Colyton Tractor Fair (see photos) - a record-breaking 85 tractors took part in the Colyton Tractor Run on Bank Holiday Monday. I was able to wander around them as the group assembled for the start at the Colyton Playing Fields. Some had driven in every run since it began in the millennium year while some were new comers.

It was Harry Ferguson, a brilliant, manic-depressive, who developed the system of hydraulic lift and weight transfer (still used today virtually unchanged throughout the world) that made possible mechanised farming. Formerly 5 acres of grazing for every horse and 5 million horses. His tractor design was a major factor in the world being able to feed itself, although with peak oil it is now under threat....what will the future of farming look like??

Anyhow I recently read Marina Lewycka's book and coincidently was also sent this review by local Transition Stroud supporter John Meadley. I enclose with his permission as a flavour of the book...

Marina Lewycka: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian(ISBN 0-141-02052-0) It might seem difficult to find a link between climate change and Marina Lewycka’s “mad and hilarious”, bitter sweet, comic and award-winning novel A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRANIAN – in which her 82-year old Ukrainian father living near Nottingham marries the gold-digging, busty blond 32 year-old Ukrainian immigrant Valentina. Not so! Her father was a famed mechanical engineer who designed and built tractors during the communist era and keeps himself sane by writing a history of tractors – including the John Deeres and the Fergusons – in Ukrainian.

As he comes to the end of his history he writes: “Every technology which is of benefit to the human race must be used appropriately and with respect. In no instance is this more true than in the case of the tractor. For the tractor, despite its early promise to free mankind from grinding toil, has also brought us to the brink of ruin – through carelessness and over-use. This has happened throughout its history, but the most striking example is in America in the 1920s.
I have said that it was the tractor that opened up the great prairies of the West. But those who followed the early pioneers were not satisfied with this. They believed that if use of tractors made the land productive then greater use of tractors would make the land more productive. Tragically it was not so.

The tractor must always be used as an aid to nature, not as a driver of nature. The tractor must work in harmony with the climate and the fertility of the land and the humble spirit of the farmers. Othe
rwise it will bring disaster, and this is what happened in the Mid West. The new farmers in the West, they did not study the climate. True, they complained of lack of rain, and the strong winds, but they did not heed the warning. They ploughed and they ploughed, for more ploughing, they believed, would bring more profit. Then winds came and blew away all the earth that had been ploughed. The Dust Bowl of the 1920s and the extreme hardship which stemmed from it, led ultimately to the economic chaos which culminated in the collapse of the American Stock Exchange in 1929. But it could be added, further, that the instability and the impoverishment which spear throughout the world were also factors behind the rise of Fascism in Germany and Communism in Russia, the clash of which almost brought the human race to its doom.

And so I leave you with this thought, dear reader. Use the technology which the engineer has developed, but use it with a humbling and questioning spirit. Never allow technology to be your master, and never use it to gain mastery over others. I don’t think that a Permaculturalist could have put it better, particularly at a time when the cloud of Peak Oil hangs so darkly over the future of farming and the production of food and other raw materials.

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