Since the early days of cultivation the breaking of the ground in preparation for planting has been backbreaking work. Farmers have always looked for better methods. The disc cultivator, or harrow, followed a long line of implements designed to make the soil more workable and productive. As the industrial revolution helped change the way factories made products, the benefits of better steel and factory-produced disc cultivators made them practical for the farmer.
How They Work
Disc cultivators are a series of round steel plates that are concave, and attached to an axle so that they may either freely rotate or are power rotated. They may have notches in the sides. As they are towed behind a tractor the plates dig into the soil at an angle which breaks up large clods and makes the soil more fine. Changing the angle of the disc to the ground determines how fine the soil is after use.
Normally disc cultivators are used on a field after the plowing is done and before the seeds are planted. They are also used in the place of plows for a more shallow cultivation or to mix fertilizer into the ground.
Patents for several types of disc cultivators were filed in the mid to late 1800s. The lack of quality steel for production was a bump in the road to making them practical. Stephen Ingersoll became involved in 1883 as a lumberyard owner who took over the operations of a new disc factory who's owner owed him money for material. The Ingersoll brand helped popularize the implement throughout the country. His son, Roy, developed a process in 1920 that significantly hardened the disc blades, which made their company a worldwide leader.
Disc cultivators range from the Australian-made East Coaster which weighs 15 tons and stretches 50 feet from side to side, to the small pull-behinds that fit onto a riding lawnmower.
After suffering through a decline through the 1980s and 1990s the disc harrow is making a comeback. Many farmers switched to the "no till" method of planting crops which made the cultivator unused. Now, though, they have realized that it is the perfect machine to plow leftover corn and wheat stalks and other crop debris underground so that they can add their organic material to the soil.
Technology has also improved the disc harrow to make it more precise and easier to use.