Agricultural machinery and equipment covers a large range of small and large equipment such as tractors, hay and forage equipment, harvesting, crop production and handling equipment.
Combines might have taken the harvesting job away from tractors, but tractors still do the majority of work on a modern farm. They are used to pull implements—machines that till the ground, plant seed, and perform other tasks.
Tillage implements prepare the soil for planting by loosening the soil and killing weeds or competing plants. Plows are now used less frequently in the U.S. than formerly, with offset disks used instead to turn over the soil, and chisels used to gain the depth needed to retain moisture.
The most common type of seeder is called a planter, and spaces seeds out equally in long rows, which are usually two to three feet apart. Some crops are planted by drills, which put out much more seed in rows less than a foot apart, blanketing the field with crops. Transplanters automate the task of transplanting seedlings to the field. With the widespread use of plastic mulch, plastic mulch layers, transplanters, and seeders lay down long rows of plastic, and plant through them automatically.
After planting, other implements can be used to cultivate weeds from between rows, or to spread fertilizer and pesticides. Hay baler’s can be used to tightly package grass or alfalfa into a storable form for the winter months.
Modern irrigation relies on machinery. Engines, pumps and other specialized gear provide water quickly and in high volumes to large areas of land. Similar types of equipment can be used to deliver fertilizers and pesticides.
Besides the tractor, other vehicles have been adapted for use in farming, including trucks, airplanes, and helicopters, such as for transporting crops and making equipment mobile, to aerial spraying and livestock herd management.
While the basic technology of agricultural machines has changed little in the last century, a combine of today still cuts, threshes, and separates grain in essentially the same way it has always been done. However, technology is changing the way that the operator operates the machines, as computer monitoring systems, GPS locators, and self-steer programs allow the most advanced tractors and implements to be more precise and less wasteful in the use of fuel, seed, or fertilizer.