Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Reaping what we sow







Obed Hussey's 1833 Reaping Machine

Grain harvesting has been the be all and end all of western farming for at least 10,000-years. For a goodly part of that time reaping has been the back breaking tradition of families in their fields gathering their crops with knives, sickles or scythes, with crop yields restricted by the size of the local labour force. It was only after 1814 that mechanical reapers began appearing - increasing harvesting rates - and therefore the amount of grain that could be reasonably sewn by one family. However the pressure to maximise grain yields is not a new one. In 78AD Pliny describes mechanical reapers being used on large estates in Gaul that come very close to matching the design patented by Obed Hussey in 1833. 


The 1st-Century AD Gallic reaping machine -
Pliny's descriptions suggest a slightly more
sophisticated machine than this artist's rendering

Pliny describes the Gallic machine as having a timber framed hopper slung between two wheels and pushed by a pair of oxen. On the front of the frame was a row of steel teeth that cut off the heads of wheat, which then fell into the hopper. And, voila, farming with minimal labour on an industrial scale...in the 1st-Century AD.