XVI. MECHANISATION OF AGRICULTURE
Farming is totally mechanised today. Manual work or using tools similar to those used traditionally are only used in families’ vegetable gardens.
There are two aspects to mechanisation. It is not only present in the large farming operations to be found on the Mediterranean side of the watershed of the area studied, but also in small family market gardens. Very powerful tractors pulling ploughs with numerous blades can be seen and there are also small rotary cultivators used to prepare a small area to sow or plant a crop for the household. The other facet is that a mechanical tool that replaces or facilitates the human work can be found on the market for every type of agricultural activity, no matter how small it may seem.
The result of those transformation is the human physical effort displacement. This is more obvious the larger the farming operation is. Mechanisation has allowed large farmland to be worked that previously required all the local residents to be involved and in turn production to be intensified. In fact, the increased power of the tractors and the ploughs is associated to a phenomenon of latifundia (vast tracts of land in the hands of a few, even though that is often achieved by leasing land from local residents who could not continue with farming). It is also possible when the land to be cultivated is more or less flat. On the Atlantic side of the watershed, particularly in mountain areas, mechanisation was only possible thanks to smaller tractors, better adapted to the rougher terrain.
Some machines can be used for different tasks. The tractor is the central element as different types of machines for different tasks are attached to it.
Implements used during the farming year
The degree of mechanisation is so high that the use of draught animals has completely disappeared and hand hoes or axes are only used in vegetable garden or places where machines cannot be used. Yet even the manual work is made easier there with the use of machines such as hoeing machines, chainsaws or brush cutters.
Preparing the land
The agricultural work is carried out with the help of the tractor to which different machines are attached. The type of tractor used, with different engines and sizes, will depend on the work to be carried out. The most powerful tractor that the farmer owns (and they usually have two or three different tractors) is used for ploughing and which can pull a multi-furrow plough with a double rotating mouldboard. Three -or four- furrow ploughs are usual, although the most powerful tractors can pull five-furrow ploughs.
Depending on the crop in question, different types of seed drills are used. Cereals are sowed using a machine attached to the tractor and which consists of a hopper the width of the tractor and with small tubes (between 18 and 30) which enter the soil and place the seeds in close rows as the tractor moves forward. Sunflower, corn, beans and beetroot need a seed drill with six small hoppers with a similar number of furrows where the seeds are sown at a set distance. Potatoes are sown using a seed drill with two or four furrows where the seed comes from a large hopper.
After sowing, the farmers have to wait until the plants germinate to be able to move on to the next task with machines. However, if the tilling and harrowing work has not been completely satisfactory, in the case of cereal, before the seed sprouts, a roller or spiked roller can be used to flatten the land.
Lettuce, endives and other vegetable come as seedlings in boxes and are sown using special machines, pulled by the tractor, where several workers are sitting and they arrange the seedlings in the soil.
Care of the crops
The work of spreading fertilizer, in the form of small solid balls, is carried out using a spreader attached to the back of the tractor. It releases the fertilizer, from a large hopper, through one of two disks spinning in unison.
On the other hand, when the product to be applied to the crops is a herbicide, fungicide or insecticide, a boiler is used with extendible and swivel arms, perpendicular to the crop furrows, and which have several nozzles that spray the product over the plants. Some boilers leave piles of white foam that comes out of the end of their arms. They leave foam marks that help the farm to know where the arms have covered and not spray the products in areas where it has already passed. Those boilers are usually attached to the tractor, though self-driven herbicide boilers have recently appeared on the market. In all cases, beforehand and each time the boiler is emptied, a hose is needed to collect water from the irrigation point and to mix the water in the boiler with the chemical product bought from specialist stores.
Even though the use of herbicides is common to get rid of weeds, cultivators pulled by tractors, usually with three bars, which as well as eliminating weeds, oxygenate soil, are still used for crops sown in furrows, such as potatoes or beetroot.
Machines in society and collective property
In the past, when agriculture began to be mechanised, it was more common than today to purchase machinery between different people or groups given the shortage of equipment. Later on, as people began to be better off and also that the machines were needed at the same time, that form of purchasing began to disappear and everyone bought what they needed. It is now common to contract the services needed from people who offer them in return for payment.