“Weeds are truly thieves in the fields,” the writers of the John Deere equipment handbook said in 1937. “Weeds draw moisture and plant food from the soil, robbing the growing crop… they steal profits when permitted to grow unhampered.”

crop cultivator

During corn growing season, killing weeds became the farmer’s primary task. In the 1930s, the development of the tricycle “row crop” tractor allowed farmers to mount two- and even four-row cultivators below or behind their machines, drastically cutting down the work they involved.

HankelFor LeRoy Hankle, getting a good cultivator was one factor that prompted him to sell his horses and get a tractor.

In “checked corn” fields, the evenly spaced rows and hills meant that the farmer would first go east and west through the field and then go north and south to cut out the weeds in both directions. With that much work involved, John Deere and other manufacturers were quick to point out the advantages of cultivators mounted on tractors.

“The steady speed of a tractor cannot be matched by horses, especially on hot days… Owners of tractor cultivators find they can put in more hours per day in the field – cultivating capacity is not limited to the endurance of animal power… The entire unit steers with the tractor – once the equipment is properly set, the operator’s only duty is steering the tractor and setting the power lift into action at the row ends.” – The Operation, Care and Repair of Farm Machinery, John Deere, 1937.

In fields planted with a normal planter, the cultivators used a series of shovels to break up the ground and cut off weeds at the roots.

HankelBut on corn planted with a lister, a special cultivator was needed. The shovels in a normal cultivator would not hold on the ridges between the rows of corn. So a listed crop cultivator was used that had discs instead of shovels. LeRoy Hankel bought a listed crop cultivator with a colorful name – the “Go-Dig” – in 1934. The first time through the field, the discs were set to throw the dirt back up into the ridge in the middle of the row. Then a few weeks later, as the corn stalk grew taller, the discs were turned the other way, and they threw the soil up along the stalk to support it and preserve subsoil moisture.

Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.

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