Moss Perrow Sr. has seen a lot change on the farm.
Farming life was simple and taxing before World War II.
“It was all mule power,” Perrow said, reflecting on how as a boy he would watch his father spend hours prepping the land for the crop. “It was not very fast.
“It was a one-mule operation and there was a hand plow that would turn the land over.”
And then tractors became available, Perrow said.
“As the war broke out, I remember we bought a John Deere tractor,” he said. “That was about the greatest thing you could buy then. There were very few of them.”
Perrow remembers the $1,900 tractor well.
“It had a set of planters on it,” he said. “It had a disc about six feet wide so you could disc the land. What a glorious thing it was. Rather than following mules every day, somebody could sit on the tractor.”
As the years went by, the elder Perrow saw tractor use increase and mule power decrease. The manpower and time needed for farming also went down.
Perrow was able to adjust to the changes in pickers, cultivators and fertilizers but the 83-year-old says the latest farming tool — the global positioning system — has been another story.
“It is getting away from me with all this new technology,” Perrow said. “I have not learned much about GPS.”
But now most of the farming operation is handled by Perrow’s sons, Drake and Moss Jr., as well as grandsons Stewart and John.
“I sort of sat back and let them learn all the new technology,” Perrow said. “I am a sidekick.”
Or a “consultant,” as 55-year-old Drake likes to call his father.
The Perrow family farm began using GPS about nine years ago and eventually added the equipment on all its tractors, cotton pickers and sprayers.
“That is what does all the work,” says Drake, who has seen both sides of the farming industry and its technological shift. “You plant by GPS and once you set it up, that is all there is to it.”
But as with everything, there was a learning curve. Peanuts helped start the technological revolution.
“The first year we planted them, we realized that we did not know what we were doing,” Drake said. “We actually drove a motorcycle up and down each of the rows and drew a line to kind of stay with that.”
Keeping the tractor straight proved a tiresome and weary task for Drake.
“We had odd rows and it was a nightmare to spray and getting equipment turned around,” he said. “You did that all day long. You were planting and you were worn out at the end of the day, physically and mentally. Trying to stay on a row with equipment trying to pull you back and forth was tough.
“The next year we all had GPS.”
The nightmare has turned into a pleasant dream, Drake said.
“Today, you can plant all day from sun up until sundown and it is not as taxing on you,” he said. “We don’t till the ground anymore and all we are doing is killing the cover crop weeds. Your subsoil and planting, you can do all in one trip while before you would disc the land twice, bed it up, have to knock the beds down and then plant it.”
“We have gone from four or five trips to one trip to get it planted,” Drake continued. “How much time and money are you are saving? It is unbelievable.”
The Perrows plant about 1,500 acres of cotton and 750 acres of peanuts. The GPS and new equipment has allowed the farm to cut back to only a handful of employees.
“We can do more with less,” he said.
Stewart, 25, explains just how the GPS helps with spraying the field.
“If you spray a path and get over on the path, the nozzles will cut off,” Stewart said. “You will paint the whole field and it knows what you sprayed and where you sprayed.”
GPS provides for soil overlays, spraying pattern overlays, planting overlays and yield monitoring.
“We are not that intense on it yet,” Drake said. “I am not quite sold on it. Things have got to get a little better for us to do that.”
Clemson Extension agent Charles Davis says local farmers have really caught on to the technological advances.
“Farming is a lot sexier than it used to be,” he said, but it has also become a lot more efficient. Yields have increased.
“In general, on peanuts I would estimate a 500 pound per acre yield advantage to Virginia-type peanuts,” Davis said. “They have the bushier vine and are harder to stay on the row than the runner types.”
Davis said at $500 per ton, it is a savings of $125 per acre.
“There is not much yield advantage on other row crops but more of a stress-reducing tool since you don’t have to spend all your time staying on the row,” he said.
Technology is more expensive but, “in the long run it has saved money,” Davis said.
Calhoun County (S.C.) cotton and peanut farmer Hayne Haigler, 64, has been farming since 1974.
“When I first started farming, we had a tractor with a cab and all,” he said. “Planters had monitors telling you when there was a malfunction. But other than that, there was not any technology from that standpoint.”
Much has changed since those days almost 40 years ago.
“Everything seems to be based on GPS right now,” he said.
Hayne remembers when he and his 37-year-old son, Keith, first got the GPS-rigged tractors about six years ago.
“At the time, I thought it was probably something that would save me money and that I would get better crops,” he said.
The Haiglers also got into GPS because of peanuts.
“With the other crops, it did not matter at the time,” Hayne said. “But after we saw how it worked with peanuts, we decided to do other things with it.”
With about 400 acres of peanuts, the GPS-run tractor has helped increase efficiency and make life easier on the farm.
“We are able to cover more ground,” Keith said.
When his father started farming, he had about 1,000 acres and triple the number of employees. Today, the farm only has one full-time employee.
But success comes with a cost.
“Everything costs and it is a lot more expensive,” Hayne said. “All the technology makes things a lot more expensive, but in the long run it has saved money.”
Overall, the GPS system costs about $25,000 on top of a tractor that costs about $250,000, Hayne said.
The Haiglers also use the GPS to monitor yields.
“The yield monitor in the cotton picker allows you to see what each part of the field is doing, whether it is doing better or one sector is doing a lot better,” Keith said. “You are able to see the soil salinity of that section by using that information.”
For the younger Haigler, the new equipment has been easy to learn. For him it was just a matter of getting out in the field and practicing.
But for dad, it has been a different story.
“I probably depend on him and let him do it,” Hayne said. “I don’t understand it. I did not grow up with all the computers and all. It is harder for me to learn all of this stuff.”
Despite the changes, Hayne gives an emphatic “No,” when asked if he misses the old days of farming.
“I have more things to learn but it has made life easier also,” he said.
Four Holes S.C., farmer Tommy Bozard, 65, started farming in the 1960s with his father and planted his first crop in 1970.
A total of 700 acres including cotton, corn and soybeans were planted.
“The first year we planted, it took two people to plant,” Tommy said, laughing. “One guy to drive the tractor and one guy sitting on the back to pull the row marker.”
Three years later, hydraulic row markers came on the scene and the Bozard farm had to adjust once again. Today, the farm has about 1,600 acres of peanuts, corn, wheat and soybeans.
“You’ve got to stay on top of the curve,” Tommy said. “If you get behind the curve you won’t make it. You got to stay on top of it.”
Staying ahead of the curve is what the Bozard family has been all about.
Tommy’s 39-year-old son, Warren, has been key to helping bring the farm into the 21st century.
“He is the technical guy. He handles all the new stuff,” Tommy said. “I can tell you what it generally does.”
GPS is “all about efficiency,” says Warren.
Even after several years of using the equipment, Tommy is still amazed how it has turned farming into an 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.
“It is unbelievable to see where things are now,” Tommy said.
Warren, who earned his degree in agriculture engineering from Clemson University, said the technology has been easier to grasp for him but there are challenges.
“The technology is great when it is working, but when it is not working you can’t work on it,” he said. “In the old days there was not a whole lot you could not fix.”
For the Bozards, the technological efficiency and above-average crop prices have made for profitable years.
“It has been really good the last three years,” Tommy said. “But if we ever go back to the norm ... and we go back to $4 or $5 corn, it would be difficult.”
Warren said his 7-year-old son, Ladso,n already likes to sit on the tractor and seems to enjoy farming. Warren said there is no telling what the future may hold.
“If he does come back to farming I am sure what we are doing now will look like the dark ages.”