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Agrimarketing : March 2012
March 2012 Agri Marketing 41 On our Midwestern 1930s family farm, corn was by far the most critical crop. We fed corn to the cattle and harvested meat and milk. We drank some of the milk, sold some of the cream for cash and used the rest to make butter, cottage cheese and occasionally, ice cream. We fed corn to our hogs and turned them into hams and bacon, tenderloin and sausage. We fed corn in the hen house, which in turn provided us with eggs and chickens for frying or baking. We fed corn to our horses in exchange for non-ethanol horsepower. So we put lots of effort into raising corn. Our methods required it because unlike today's hi-tech agriculture, we were powered by two horses, Dick and Prince, and an amazing amount of human energy. PLANTING TIME First to the future cornfield came our moldboard plow, pulled by Dick and Prince. Early in the spring, it circled the field hundreds of times, turning a 14-inch ribbon of soil each pass. Then an 8-foot disc sliced every square inch of the field to smooth down chunks left by the plow. Then an 8-foot drag harrow smoothed the surface even more. Sometimes a second "cross harrowing" was needed to get the seedbed just right. These operations might take most of a month. Then came corn planting. Same horses, same farmer. This time they hauled the planter back and forth across the field, split iron wheels spaced to make two rows 40 inches (horse-width) apart. Two planter boxes held about four gallons of open-pollinated seed corn, saved from last year's crop. Fertilizer boxes sometimes sparingly sprinkled a commercial starter mix, but more often ran empty. The check wire, which created perfectly-aligned cross rows, required the operator get off the planter at each end of the field to move the check wire stakes and re-set the guide marker. Horses and operator were always working at capacity in the heat of late spring. By day's end, all had earned a long rest. WALKING THE CORN Since herbicides had not yet been invented and tractors were too expensive, we fought weeds and grass with more horsepower ... and boypower. Pulling a one-row cultivator, Dick and Prince once again trudged back and forth across the field. Dad or I would walk behind the "Daisy," maneuvering the heavy shovels to get rid of weeds and grass while rolling soil up to "hill" the growing corn. We carried a few pounds of seed corn along to fill in any spots washed out or eaten by mice or crows. The cultivating operation was usually repeated once or twice during the summer until the corn got too tall. On the last cultivation, we usually carried a pocketful of pumpkin and watermelon seeds, which we planted in likely spots throughout the field. When grass and weeds were especially bad, we sometimes spent a few days in mid-summer walking corn rows with a garden hoe. Now it became a waiting game. Hoping against hope that we would get some timely showers and that a severe 10-minute hail storm wouldn't destroy the vital crop; that grasshoppers wouldn't be as bad as last year; that chinch bugs wouldn't eat everything into the ground as they had in the past, and that the hot dry winds of August wouldn't cause our crop to roll up and die. FINALLY ... HARVEST Finally ... October and time to start the corn harvest. Once again Dick and Prince were harnessed and driven to the field, this time pulling the iron-wheeled wagon with high sideboards plus an even taller "bang-board" on one side of the box. We hooked open the shucks, broke the ear away from the stalk and threw it against the bang- board. Fast pickers might harvest 80 or more bushels per day. At an average of 40 bu/A --- that was from two acres! AM AGRICULTURE IN PERSPECTIVE CORN ... VITAL THEN, VITAL NOW by Omer Dye DRAMATIC CHANGES The American cornfield has seen dramatic changes since World War II. In every case, agri-marketers were there, presenting the features and benefits of their new idea. Here is a partial list of the developments that have contributed to that progress: • Hybrid seed • Commercial fertilizer • Narrow-row, multi-row equipment • Minimum tillage • High-horsepower tractors • Irrigation • Soil testing • Insecticides • Aerial application • Selective herbicides • Seed with stacked traits • On-farm grain drying and storage • Field mapping and variable rates • Cell phones • GPS and precision farming • Marketing options • Air conditioned cabs • Risk management. AM Following his graduation from the University of Missouri, Omer Dye joined Ralston Purina then moved into the agency profession with Bozell & Jacobs in Omaha, NE. Later, he formed his own agency, Niche Marketing, before his recent retirement.
January February 2012