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93-year-old Geddes farmer reflects on career, calls no-till farming ‘100 percent change’

GEDDES -- After a lifetime of farming, Harold Pavlis says it may be hard for young people to get into farming, but he faced his own challenges when he started his own operation in 1946.

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Harold Pavlis, 93, of Geddes, poses for a photo next to his garden on Aug. 22 north of Geddes. (Jake Shama/Republic)

GEDDES - After a lifetime of farming, Harold Pavlis says it may be hard for young people to get into farming, but he faced his own challenges when he started his own operation in 1946.

Pavlis, who lives about five miles north of Geddes, began farming his own land at age 24 with just one cow, one pig and seven chickens and slowly turned it into a 2,200-acre operation.

"From one cow, you go to two cows, and after a while, you've got lots of cows," Pavlis said. "It builds up one thing to another."

Now 93 years old, Pavlis said it would be difficult to start farming from scratch today. With changes like no-till practices, farming today is entirely different than when he started 70 years ago.

"Farming's changed like everything. I wouldn't even try it anymore," Pavlis said. "That's a 100 percent change, is no-till farming. As long as they get by, I think it's great."

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The face of farming has changed in other ways, too. In 1995, Pavlis purchased a replica of a tractor his father owned when Pavlis was in high school in Geddes in the '30s, a 1923 Fordson, built one year after Pavlis was born.

The tractor still runs, although it spends most of its time on a trailer. Pavlis and his family take the tractor on a tour through town during Geddes' Fur Trader Days annually, though it has to remain on the trailer to keep its steel wheels from digging into the pavement.

But even though his father owned a tractor, Pavlis often made use of another farm tool: horses.

Whether he was plowing, planting or cultivating, Pavlis said he would walk behind a team of up to six horses to get the job done.

"When I was 11 years old, I drove six horses, three lines on each hand. Now my grandson is the same age, and he's driving 200 horses," Pavlis said, referencing large tractors.

Pavlis' Fordson weighs about 3,000 pounds and is less than 5 feet tall. Large tractors today rise to around 13 feet tall and can weigh in excess of 60,000 pounds, although tractors of comparable size to the Fordson are still available.

But even with the vast technological changes in the past 70 years, Pavlis said the single largest change is no-till farming.

Although it may be tough, Pavlis had one piece of advice to anyone looking to succeed in the farming business.

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"Get to work, and that's what they're doing. They get to work," he said.

Pavlis quit full-time farming in 1987, but some of his seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren have started their own operations on his land and his father's land, which is now a centennial farm.

But Pavlis has continued to help out as needed and last ran a combine two years ago, he said.

Pavlis' daughter, Jean Sybesma, called his grandchildrens' operations "his legacy," and Pavlis expects the land to stay in his family "for a long time."

While he's not harvesting crops anymore, Pavlis is still driving tractors to tend to a quarter-acre garden outside his home, where he grows sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins for his family and to donate.

"We don't necessarily go out there and dig them by hand like you would a normal garden," he said.

Although he gets around these days mostly by scooter, Pavlis still attends Dakotafest and has been to the Mitchell farm show every year since its inception in 1996.

"Just to look around. That's the only reason I go," Pavlis said. "I go up every avenue and enjoy the sights."

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Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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