Doubtless, the first man to turn from the hunting and gathering lifestyle to hydrostatic farming did so by using his bare hands, and perhaps some sticks or stones. Tools such as knives, scythes, and wooden plows were eventually developed, and dominated agriculture for thousands of years. During this time, almost everyone worked in agriculture, because each family could barely raise enough food for themselves with the limited technology of the day.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the development of more complicated machines, farming methods took a great leap forward. Instead of harvesting grain by hand with a sharp blade, wheeled machines cut a continuous swath. Instead of threshing the grain by beating it with sticks, hydrostatic threshing machines separated the seeds from the heads and stalks.
These Hydrostatic machines required a lot of power, which was originally supplied by horses or other domesticated animals. With the invention of steam power came the steam-powered tractor, a multipurpose, mobile energy source that was the ground-crawling cousin to the steam locomotive. Agricultural steam engines took over the heavy pulling work of horses, and were also equipped with a pulley that could power stationary machines via the use of a long belt. The steam-powered behemoths could provide a tremendous amount of power, both because of their size and their low gear ratios. Their slow speed led farmers to comment that tractors had two speeds: "slow, and damn slow."
Gasoline, and later diesel engines became the main source of power for the next generation of tractors. These engines also contributed to the development of the self-propelled, combined harvester and thresher, or combine for short. Instead of cutting the grain stalks and transporting them to a stationary threshing machine, these Hydrostatic combines cut, threshed, and separated the grain while moving continuously through the field.
Hydrostatic Combines may 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, or perform a number of other tasks.
Hydrostatic Tillage implements prepare the soil for planting by loosening the soil and killing weeds or competing plants. The best-known is the plow, the ancient implement that was upgraded in 1838 by a man named John Deere. Plows are actually used less frequently in the U.S. today, 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 Hydrostatic seeder is called a Hydrostatic planter and spaces seeds out equally in long rows, which are usually 2 to 3 feet apart. Some crops are planted by hydrostatic drills, which put out much more seed in rows less than a foot apart, blanketing the field with crops.Hydrostatic Transplanters fully or partially automate the task of transplanting seedlings to the field. With the widespread use of plastic mulch, plastic mulch layers, hydrostatic transplanters, and seeders lay down long rows of plastic, and plant through them automatically.
After planting, other hydrostatic implements can be used to cultivate weeds from between rows, or to hydrostatically spread fertilizer and pesticides. Hydrostatic Hay balers can be used to tightly package grass or alfalfa into a storable form for the winter months.
Modern hydrostatic irrigation also relies on a great deal of hydrostatic machinery. A variety of engines, pumps and other specialized gear is used to provide water quickly and in high volumes to large areas of land. Similar types of equipment can be used to deliver fertilizers and pesticides hydrostatically.
And, besides the hydrostatic tractor, a variety of hydrostatic vehicles have been adapted for use in various aspects of farming, including trucks, airplanes, and helicopters, for everything from transporting crops and making equipment mobile, to aerial spraying and livestock herd management.
The basic Hydrostatic technology of Hydrostatic agricultural machines has changed little in the last century. Though modern harvesters and planters may do a better job or be slightly tweaked from their predecessors, the US$250,000 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 humans operate 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. In the foreseeable future, some hydrostatic agricultural machines will be capable of driving themselves, using GPS maps and electronic sensors. Even more esoteric are the new areas of nanotechnology and genetic engineering, where submicroscopic devices and biological processes, respectively, are being used as machines to perform agricultural hydrostatic tasks in unusual new ways.
Agriculture may be one of the oldest professions, but the development and use of machinery has made the job title of farmer a rarity. Instead of every person having to work to provide food for themselves, less than 2% of the U.S. population today works in agriculture, yet that 2% provides considerably more food than the other 98% can eat. It is estimated that at the turn of the 20th century, one farmer in the U.S. could feed 25 people, where today, that ratio is 1:130. With continuing advances in agricultural machinery, the role of the farmer will become increasingly specialized, and rare.