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Since its start in 1837, John Deere has been the major manufacturer of moldboard plows. But that came to a halt in February of this year as the company’s last plow, a six-bottom unit with a price tag of $67,000, rolled off the Deere assembly line.
There’s no doubt that the self-scouring moldboard plow that first came out of John Deere’s blacksmith shop in 1837 had a major impact on the advancement of American agriculture. But with the shifts around the world to no-till and other reduced tillage practices over the past 50 years, the plow’s declining popularity seems to be coming to an end.
In the mid-1800s, the growing demand for moldboard plows got underway and never stopped for more than 100 years. By 1848, Deere was turning out 700 plows a year, expanding to an amazing 15,000 plows annually just a dozen years later.
By the mid-1950s, USDA estimated as many as 140,000 moldboard plows from numerous manufacturers were sold annually. Yet with the growing popularity of no-till and minimum tillage, plow numbers dwindled to fewer than 3,000 units shipped each year by the late 1980s.
In 1972, 85% of the farmed ground in the U.S. was conventionally tilled, with almost all being moldboard plowed. Yet this dropped to only 28% of the land in 2017.
From 1972 to 2018, the U.S. no-till acreage increased from 3.2 million acres to 109 million acres. Around the world, the no-till acreage in 2018 stood at 507…