Man has cultivated the Earth for thousands of years, and for a large portion of that time he has been "tilling"—turning the soil to bury weeds and mix in fertilizer—in order to grow crops. Tillage, and agriculture in general, took a big step toward modern intensive processes when Australian inventor Arthur Clifford (Cliff) Howard (1893-1971) created the motorized tiller—the Howard Rotovator—in 1912.
The son of a farmer, Howard studied engineering in Australia at Moss Vale, New South Wales. In 1912 he began experimenting on farming methods—primarily machines to improve tillage—on the family farm at Gilgandra, New South Wales. Howard noticed that regular plowing methods compacted the soil, making it more difficult to mix in fertilizer. Rotary tillage already existed, but was operated manually. Howard took a standard manual tiller and coupled it to his father's steam tractor. This proved superior to the standard plowing techniques, taking less effort to run, mixing the soil better and more evenly, and resulting in less crop residue being left on the surface.
Howard patented his creation, trademarked the name "Rotavator," and formed Austral Auto Cultivators Pty Ltd. in 1922 to market his invention. Howard went on to develop an extensive line of rotary tillers powered by internal combustion engines for many specific terrains, including orchards and vineyards. He also designed machines that could destroy weeds. Eventually, Howard marketed his machines around the world. Today rotavators are commonly used for soil preparation and are essential for maintaining the high yields of intensive modern agriculture.