How Much Do You Know About Farm Equipment?


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Capelle.r/ Moment/ Getty Images

About This Quiz

There are certain basics to farming that haven't changed since the first nomad realized that if they used a hooked stick to break up the soil where their favorite berry patch grew, more berry plants would appear the following year. There are other elements of farming, however, that have become unbelievably specialized and technologically advanced. From sensors and apps to monitor soil moisture, to hyper-precise weather forecasts to ensure that planting happens at an optimal time, to intelligent dairies that monitor the health and output of every cow, farming has entered the 21st century.

This means that the variety of equipment farmers have to be able to use has only risen. Sure, some of the new equipment saves them labor, but that doesn't mean they get extra free time! It means instead that they merely upgrade their systems to produce more efficiently (and hopefully, humanely). The new devices and the additional features of older devices have thus not reduced the workload, though they have radically increased safety and raised efficiency and productivity. Some backbreaking and dangerous work has now been replaced by computers and spreadsheets, which is great for farmers who often experience chronic injuries at a young age.

How well do you know the old and the new on farms? Let's find out!

How many functions does a combine harvester typically perform at once?

A combine harvester is a fabulous invention that radically cuts the amount of time it takes to get the harvest in, which means that the odds of spoilage and crop loss are radically reduced. This wonderful machine performs three functions, hence the "combine" name. It reaps, it threshes and it winnows. It's a miracle on wheels!


What happens to your topsoil if you plow it too much?

Topsoil is an incredibly complicated biological system, and plowing it too much messes with that system in several ways. You can break the soil down so that nutrients and moisture are lost, leaving you vulnerable to erosion and reducing yields per acre. Over-plowing is one of the No.1 sins of farming. It's something that modern equipment is designed to help avoid.


For what might you use a backhoe?

A rock picker can help you remove smaller rocks, but if you discover something very big in your field, you need a backhoe. This standard piece of industrial or construction equipment is a must-have on every farm over a certain size. Smaller farms may share one to save money.


What is the best way to harvest strawberries en masse?

There are automated strawberry-picking robots, but, so far, they are not cheaper or better than humans once you account for the purchase price. There is simply no substitute for the original and best piece of equipment on your farm — a pair of hands attached to a hardworking person. Strawberry picking is backbreaking labor, so next time you enjoy a delicious ripe berry, spare a moment of gratitude for the worker who helped bring it to your plate!


What is the basic function of plowing?

Plowing is all about making sure the texture of the soil is firm enough for plants to grow but loose enough for water, nutrients and oxygen to get to the seeds, and for the shoots to grow easily through the surface. It has many functions, but the depth of plowing should always be adjusted to the soil type.


For what purpose do you use a "trencher"?

A trencher is designed to dig long, thin holes. Ditches serve an important function in farming. They help the field to drain standing water from the topsoil so that crops are not drowned where they stand. Drainage is a key part of a working farm.


Which of these is the cheapest to maintain in the winter?

Hedges are like lawns, and they require little to no maintenance outside of the growing season. Hedges also have the advantage that if a gap develops, they can grow back and fill it up themselves, unlike fences where you have to add a new section more deliberately!


What is the name of the incredibly effective pesticide that is no longer used due to its ghastly impacts on wildlife and (eventually) humans?

DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, was considered a wonder substance when it first came out. It transformed crop yields and overhauled farming. Then scientist Rachel Carson realized that it was not just killing pests, it was killing all the insects and birds that sustain the food chain, including pollinators that we rely on for our crops to grow. Her book, "Silent Spring," changed the story of DDT. It can be said without exaggeration that Carson's work saved entire ecosystems from collapse.


What is the semi-liquid goop that is made of cow manure and stored in a tank?

There should be no waste on a proper farm! Slurry is an example of how farms are designed to use even manure. It goes into a tank where it is made sufficiently liquid to flow and stored until it is used as fertilizer. One of the worst days to walk on any farm is the day the slurry is spread!


What are these somewhat less controversial pesticides?

Some pesticides and fertilizers are high-impact, in the sense that they can be very effective but they also risk killing off too many species or leaving traces on the crops. Biologicals are naturally occurring chemicals and organisms that serve the same functions but have a relatively lower impact on the environment. They are a rapidly growing branch of farming.


What is the name of the natural powder distributed in a barn to kill insects that are eating your crops?

Diatomaceous earth is harmless to mammals but full of tiny spiky fragments known as diatoms that pierce the shells of insects and kill them. It is put into barns to kill off critters attempting to eat stored crops. It won't do any damage should some of it remain in the food chain.


Which of these is a necessary condition to turn grass or corn into silage?

Silage is grass or hay that has been compacted in anaerobic conditions so that it ferments. This keeps it from sprouting or spoiling, meaning that it can be stored and used as fodder throughout the winter. Silage can only be created in the absence of oxygen, which can be achieved with a compactor or even through the use of tarpaulins and very heavy tractor tires.


How many times a day do cows go to the milking parlor?

The cows generally go to be milked twice a day, as this is the optimal arrangement for their comfort and output. When cows who are currently producing milk are not milked, this causes them to be uncomfortable. Milking is also a chance for them to get into the parlor where there is food waiting for them!


A grain drier protects grain while it dries. Which is NOT one of the reasons for which it is needed?

A grain drier is a kind of silo that stores grain at the perfect temperature. Ensuring that moisture levels are not too high is essential to prevent grain from sprouting or spoiling. It also ensures that rodents and other critters cannot get to the grain and eat it.


What is the name of the piece of equipment that moves around lots of hay?

Pitchforks are the smaller, individual version of this piece of equipment which can move a lot of hay. Once hay is baled, you can stick the bale on a fork and easily move it around. Bales keep getting bigger and bigger, so the forks are also getting bigger!


What is the name of the machine that selects eggs according to size?

The produce sorter will sort all sorts of things by size. It works exactly the same way as a machine that sorts coins, using different-size channels for the eggs to slide down. This is how your small, medium, large and jumbo eggs end up neatly arranged in their boxes!


Where would you find a cattle guard (also known as a cattle grid)?

A cattle guard, or cattle grid, is a row of bars that you can put into a gateway to make sure cows cannot go through. It is useful for when you need humans or machines to go in and out frequently, and opening and shutting a gate would be too much effort. Of course, a cattle grid is permanent, but you can put a board over it should you decide you want your cows on the other side!


Known in Europe as a centrifugal fertilizer spreader, what device spreads certain types of seeds across the field as needed?

Individually planting every single seed is very labor-intensive and slow, hence the broadcast seeder, which makes sure they get to where they need to go. There was a somewhat automated version of the broadcast seeder. Early versions of this piece of equipment would drop seeds at the correct intervals.


When was barbed wire invented?

Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, invented barbed wire in 1867. It was not as sophisticated as the modern variety, but it was a huge boon to farmers. Post-and-rail fencing is expensive and hard to maintain, while regular wire doesn't deter some types of animals from simply wandering through it.


For which of these animals would you generally set your electric fence to the highest level?

Electric fencing is light and portable, and the charge can be varied, depending on the animal you're protecting. The highest voltage should be used for sheep, as they have a thicker coat than most animals. If you accidentally make contact with the electric fence when the pulse comes through, you will notice!


Why would you use a swather?

A swather is a machine that organizes the cut crops into beautiful cornrows (also known as windrows) so they are easy to collect. This is incredibly important, as reducing the time between harvesting and collection saves on spoilage and loss to pests. Swathing is thus a key step in ensuring farmers don't work all year only to lose their crop before they can get it to market.


Which of these is NOT an attachment for harvesting a certain type of crop?

A draper head, auger head, or corn head are all attachments you might put on the front of your harvester to collect your crops. If you use the wrong machine, you can mangle your crop badly or cut it off too high to get the piece you wanted. These machines have replaced the scythe and sickle, and saved millions of backs from early destruction!


What piece of equipment makes sure your seeds are neither too deep nor too shallow?

You have to put seeds deep enough that they can get a good grip on the soil and birds cannot eat them, but not so deep that the sunlight cannot help them to sprout, or so that there is too much soil between them and coming out of the ground. A seed drill helps to automate this previously laborious and difficult process.


What machine has transformed the speed with which a rice crop can go from field to market?

Rice does not come out of the ground in a nice neat little grain. It is inside a husk that has to be removed. Automating the fiddly and slow process of husking the rice has transformed the lives of literally billions of people by reducing the cost and labor involved in producing this staple crop.


What machine speeds up the process of getting stones out of your field so you can farm it?

If you leave too many rocks in your field, or even a single one that is too large, you will not only blunt your plow or your harvester, you could easily break them. A rock picker helps you to identify and remove the bigger rocks so that you have a nice smooth surface that is ready to be plowed or harrowed.


Why would you harrow instead of plow?

Harrowing is appropriate where the topsoil is not deep or thick enough for plowing. When farmers over-plow their soil, it becomes too loose and crumbly and can erode in rain and wind. Making the right choice for the soil type prevents issues like the Dust Bowl occurring again.


What essential piece of paper should you never operate farming equipment without?

You don't need a log or certificate for all farming equipment, but when it comes to a half-million-dollar combine harvester, there are regulations to follow, as well as a certain logic in making sure you have dotted every "I" and crossed every "T". These machines are generally specialized, and not everyone knows how to handle them.


What modern piece of equipment do farmers use to ensure soil moisture is constantly monitored?

Soil moisture is essential to ensure that plants have enough water but not too much. This avoids wasting water, which is especially important in drier climates. Over-watering plants also damages their output and can weaken the soil so that the roots become unstable.


After your baler has made a hay bale, what should happen to that bale?

Bales should be wrapped after they are made. There is even a machine that does the baling and wrapping in one process, though it is possible to use two or three machines. A baling machine is a delightful thing to watch in action, as it is rather comical. The bales go round and round on a small platform and then they are spat back onto the field's surface.


Which of these is NOT a brand of tractors?

These are all brands that are big in farming. Gippsland is a brand of crop-dusting planes, but the others are all types of tractors. The fanciest tractors can cost over $500,000, while a "cheaper" one will still cost in the high five figures. Driving a tractor remains hard work, even with all the modern accoutrements.


On industrial-scale farms, what piece of equipment is no longer required in the milking process?

Automation in dairy is a challenge because cows respond to human touch and tend to be affectionate toward the dairyman if he is competent! As the cows move around and need to be soothed, reducing the number of people in the mix was a huge challenge. These days, there are still dairymen, but the physical and dangerous parts of the job can be automated. The human's job is to monitor the cows and make sure everything is going well.


What two functions of picking root vegetables can now be performed by a single machine?

The farming industry has been automating slowly compared to some businesses, mainly thanks to the low cost of labor and the stupendous costs of the equipment that displaces certain types of workers. Ultimately, a machine that picks olives, grapes, or anything as well-hidden as a potato, is a heck of a technological challenge, as it is not just a matter of identifying which is the part to pick, the machine also has to avoid squashing the produce! Only now are these machines becoming dextrous, smart and quick enough to replace people.


What is the process that delivers just the right amount of water to the roots of your crop?

Drip irrigation is superior to other forms as it monitors the flow and delivers the water only in the smallest possible amount required. As we mentioned, when it comes to soil moisture, too much or too little can be equally problematic and wasteful.


Farm equipment raises efficiency. By 1990, how many acres could one worker handle, on average?

Today, one worker can farm an area of up to about 740 acres, which is slightly smaller than New York's Central Park. It may not seem like the most enormous slice of land, but in 1890, this number was 27.5 acres! It took humanity many years to get from the point that a worker could handle a couple of acres to handling just under 30, but only 100 years to leap by an order of magnitude. Electricity and the internal combustion engine are the key factors that prompted this.


What is the name of the movement that would smash up then-modern farm equipment in protest against automation that was putting workers out of a job?

The Luddites were based in the English counties of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire, and they were opposed to textile and farming equipment. They felt that this would take away their jobs. To be fair to them, the percentage of people in farming has dropped tremendously, but the total number of jobs has gone up, and people generally went into safer and better roles, so their concern was largely misplaced.


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