Brown graphic. Text reads, "Picturing the History of Agritech: The 'Past & Present' Display."

Farming has changed dramatically in the last hundred years — heck, even within the last fifty years. But many consumers don’t know about it. And unfortunately, that means they’re less equipped to understand why modern agriculture looks the way it does. So an exhibit about the history of agritech is one effective way to bridge that gap.

Our friends at Virginia State University wanted their exhibit trailer to highlight the cutting-edge, high-tech nature of modern ag. And to show how far things have come, they asked us to include an exhibit about major developments in agritech, right inside the trailer’s front door.

(Check out the Past & Present Display’s page in our online portfolio for more photos.)

A Visual Guide to Agriculture’s Progress

Talking about the entire recent history of agritech would take far too long for a single display, of course. So we limited ourselves to four topics: planting technology, fertilizers, irrigation systems, and harvesting machinery. Those areas all saw significant advances in the past hundred years, and each of them plays a major role in the success of a farm.

Next, we dug through photo databases to find four images for each topic. Two photos in each group show an outdated technology or method. The other two show modern ag’s replacement for the old techniques. The exhibit juxtaposes the photos so people can see first the old technology, then the new. It’s an easy way for people to quickly grasp the differences.

Series of info panels about how farming technology has changed from past to present.

For example, in the Planting Technology section, the two “old” images show a man sowing seeds by hand and a farmer on a horse-drawn plow. Both are black and white, for added contrast with the color images on the left. Those “new” images show a modern planter covering a dozen furrows at once, and a closeup of a planter’s wheel closing the furrow.

Explaining the History of Agritech

But we didn’t just leave people to figure out the developments from pictures alone. Each section has a panel giving a brief written overview. It describes the earliest version of its section’s tech, then mentions the biggest milestones between then and now. The panels also slide — they’re long enough to cover two photos at a time. Visitors can slide the panel from one side of the display to the other in order to see the old tech, the new tech, or one photo on each side.

The Past & Present display is a fairly simple way for VSU to introduce the history of agritech. But it’s also effective: who’s going to forget the contrast between single-furrow, horse-drawn plows and automatic tractor-pulled planters? It can help spark all sorts of conversations about sustainability, precision ag, the innovations farmers and researchers are experimenting with right now, and so on. Sometimes, looking back is the best way to approach modern ag.