October 30, 2002
Cold thin rain falls from gray autumn skies as this farmer plows a field to prepare for planting next spring. Seagulls from nearby Lake Michigan appear by the hundreds searching for an easy lunch of freshly exposed worms. Plowing has long been the earthy signature of agrarian culture, symbolic of freshness, fertility, and the hope of a new crop. There are few experiences as rewarding and tangible as watching furrows of earth turn neatly behind you, burying spent husks and dried grass of a summer past. Of course plowing is more than metaphor. When the soil is properly managed, plowing serves to recycle nutrients and carbon by speeding decomposition of plant matter through burial, as well as loosening and aerating soil to hasten springtime warming and drying. In times past, a farmer with a team of two horses could plow about 2 acres (.8 ha) a day. The 6 bottom 160 horsepower rig above plows a swath 9 feet (2.8 m) wide at a time covering 5 acres (2 ha) an hour.