Jerry Mills

Feb 2, 2021
Jerry Mills: Machines, conventions and other farm tidbits

Editor’s note: Jerry Mills has written Notes from the Farm for Vegetable Growers News for the past 17 years. This column is a look back at one of his first columns, written in March 2004. To appreciate more of Jerry’s chronicalization of the industry from his unique perspective, purchase a copy of his book, “Notes from the Farm,” by going online to

Have you noticed that most successful farmers are good with machinery? It must have gotten into the farmer gene pool sometime in the early 1800s.

One hundred-fifty years ago, farmers were big exhibitors at agricultural expositions in Illinois. They liked to show their prized cattle and inventions. The tradition has evolved, but we still see an occasional farmer pitching his invention.

(As a side note, as soon as railroads came in, in the 1850s, they began offering free transportation to exhibitors who wanted to show at the fairs. The catch was that exhibitors only had free transport during the fair. To get there early, or stay late, they had to pay.)

It probably is no accident that the farm machinery industry developed in the northern states. The North did not have a ready supply of workers, and I suspect women folks got tired or wore out trying to produce the work force. Mechanical help was the answer.

Here in the Midwest it is not unusual to see one man and his wife farming thousands of acres. I know a couple that farm 1,500 to 2,000 acres by themselves. In the spring, she tills and he plants, then later she combines and he hauls the grain. The women would probably say that this is a better way to get the
job done.

New age machines

Technology now exists to send a tractor to the field and let it work without a human on board. Think of the advantages! Spraying at optimum times regardless of day or night, working around the clock and when it is inconvenient for humans. One automated tractor could take the place of one or more regular tractors – and their drivers. The possibilities are endless.

My tractor would have a cab, however, and I would ride in it. In fact my cab would be so big I could stretch out and relax, have a workstation with a computer, a library shelf and maybe even a hotplate, refrigerator and toilet, and of course, a plasma TV. The neighbor says his would just have a bed and a wet bar.

It would be fun just riding along without having to actually drive anything. Such a machine would be worth a lot of extra money just because of the efficiencies and convenience it would provide the opportunity to get out of the house without really working.

If the wife complained that I never took her any place I’d let her ride in the jump seat.

I hope somebody builds one before I am too old to crawl into the cab.


I love ’em! They provide a chance to learn new things, see old friends, make new ones and get away from the humdrum routine.

This year at the Illinois Specialty Growers Conference, I met a bright young fruit grower from Michigan who also publishes three trade newspapers. He didn’t appear to be much over 30 years old and already he is making an impact on agriculture. It gives me hope for the future. His name is Matt McCallum.

Some people say they cannot be bothered with going to meetings. Too much trouble. Too expensive. Waste of time. I don’t agree. I never went to a meeting of any kind that I didn’t pick up a useful idea. The only problem is I forget it by the time we get home. This year I took the kids so they can remember for me.

One of the great things about our industry is people’s willingness to share information. Sometimes fellow growers can teach as much as the university people, with fewer words. We need more of this information exchange to counter overseas competition.

Two cures for forgetfulness

About once a year, I used to lose my wallet. Not permanently, but for a week or two until someone stumbled onto it. In the meantime, I drove without a license, without credit cards and wondered how much money was gone.

As a gag, one of our employees gave me a truck driver’s wallet, a big one with a chain and belt loop. I wasn’t too impressed.

Recently, I ran across it and decided to use it since my old wallet was worn out. By golly, I haven’t lost my wallet since! It may look silly with a suit, but I haven’t lost it!

Car keys are a different matter. I used to lose them several times a day. One day I saw a double-ended harness thingy in the store. A light came on. Now it hangs from the wallet loop most of the time with the keys on it. Besides giving comfort knowing they aren’t lost, they free up my mind for more serious matters – like lunch.

Speaking of lunch

We always offer lunch to anyone who was working at the farm during mealtime. We first did it because I couldn’t eat comfortably in the presence of helpers who had no lunch. Then I learned that feeding at the farm kept workers closer when we needed them to work.

Good lunches during a busy market day are neat. Since we seldom have time for everyone to eat together, it adds to the drama of the day if people are rushing in to gulp down a few bites before going back to the trenches.

A “good” lunch would be a big pan of lasagna. A more ordinary one is spaghetti or pizza. In a pinch, we’ll dig out some brats and buns, and if all else fails, there is a loaf of bread in the freezer and peanut butter and jelly on the back shelf.

For dessert, there are usually homemade cookies on hand and, with any kind of luck, a pie that needs to go away. Don’t get any ideas and stop by during the offseason, though, you’ll go hungry.

Virus alert

Comments via email are welcome. However, mention The Fruit Growers News in the subject line or I may not open it. We are plagued with spam and viruses, and are picky about our email. If you use your name and no subject, you won’t have a chance.

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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