It goes without saying – Farmers and ranchers are inventors out of necessity. They make their own tools and equipment when they need to, or if they just want to. Or, more likely, when they are using someone else’s device and they see a way to make it better.
The natural inventiveness of farmers and ranchers is well known to the people that run the National Inventors Hall of Fame®. They are inducting a new member this year, a midwest farmer that invented center-pivot irrigation.
Born in 1894, Frank Zybach grew up in Loup Township, Platte County, Nebraska. His father was a blacksmith and a farmer who encouraged his son to work with his mind and hands. Young Frank began inventing at age 13.
In the mid-20th century, Mr. Zybach transformed agricultural production worldwide. He created Center-pivot irrigation. It’s a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. His first designs were powered by water, but today most are propelled by electric motors and will water about 125 acres.
The early designs were finicky. He kept modifying his designs until he built a system that was reliable and efficient. In 1954, he licensed his patent to Valley Manufacturing who marketed the systems world wide.
Using Frank Zybach’s center pivot, farmers in the Great Plains could efficiently irrigate a hundred and twenty five acres at a time and increase yields on previously marginal land. By 2013, center pivots irrigated nearly 28 million acres on 57,000 U.S. farms.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.