Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy
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FARMING IN WOODBURY COUNTY
by Paul Hubert
Farming, as I first remember it sixty years ago, was much different from farming today. In those days, farming crops was done with horses. My father had four horses and the necessary horst machinery to farm 80 acres. I think I would be safe to say, the total cost of his farm equipment at that time would have been lest than a large riding lawn mower of today.
Corn was planted one row at a time, with four horses for power. Eight to ten acres was considered a good dayís work. Most of the cultivating was done with one row cultivators, with two horses. Corn picking was done by hand, two rows at a time. You did a big dayís work if you picked 100 bushel, which would be about one and one-half acres. In 1984, with six-row equipment, five acres an hour is average.
Regular farm tractors were few and were only used for plowing and threshing grain. In those days, the farmers lived on the farms, and it was common practice to build a set of farm building on 160-acre farm. Many times there were four or more farmsites per mile. Until 1936, there were few farms that had electricity. Those that had it had their own 32-volt power plants.
In 1928, International Harvester came out with a row crop tractor. It was the Regular Farmall, rated about a 10-20 H.P., and pulled a two-bottom plow and a two-row lister. A good dayís plowing was about 8 acres, and between 15 to 20 acres of corn listing. The reason corn was listed in furrows was because it was easier to control the grass and weed problem.
Not everyone farmed with a tractor, but machinery was made to go with the Farmall, like the mounted cultivators and cornpicker. This was the start of the mechanized farming. With a two-row picker it was possible to pick 1000 bushes per day, but it took a crew of two or three men and four wagons, and an elevator at the crib. It wasnít every farmer who had an elevator, so then the corn had to be hand-scooped in the crib. After the corn was crib-dried it had to be shelled. The corn was hauled to town from the sheller with teams and wagons, farmers exchanging help with each other. After the 30ís, corn shelling was hired. One man would own the sheller and trucks and would deliver the corn to town. He furnished all the help, the charge was five to six cents per bushel.
Until 1940, most farms here on the bottoms raised wheat. In the early days the grain binder was pulled by four horses. The grain bundles were shocked by hand. Threshing was a neighborhood thing. It took a crew about 15 men; they went from farm to farm until the run was complete.
In 1931, I saw my first combine in operation. It belonged to a neighbor. It was a Baldwin and powered by a Model T Ford engine. It had to be pulled through the field by a tractor and it cut an eight-foot swath. As time went on, most farmers owned their own combines; most were the small P.T.O. models and would cut form 5 to 7-foot swaths, and cost less than $1000.
During the last 20 years, big changes have taken place in farming. Every piece of machiner has gotten bigger and very expensive. In 1935 a F-20 Farmall tractor and 2-bottom plow cost less than $1000; today the average price for tractors runs from $25,000 to $85,000, depending on the size of the farm operation. Planters run from four-row to 24-row and cost over $1000 per row. Combine prices run from $35,000 to over $100,000. In order to make these machines pay for themselves, farms have to be large, into the thousands of acres.
In the late 30ís soybeans were introduced to this part of the country. Soybeans were planted in rows and could also be drilled like grain. The soybean replaced much of the small grain in this part of the country. The soybean has long roots that loosen the ground and make a good seed bed for corn. An acre of beans will, on a good year, produce form 33 to 50 bushes per acre. Due to supply and demand, I have seen beans sell from $3.00 per bushel to $13.00. Beans are a cheaper crop to raise than corn, as one bushed of beans plants one acre, and no fertilizer is usually needed. During the first years there was no market around here for soybeans so they had to be trucked to Quimby, Iowa, where they were processed into meal and oil. They have been a wonderful crop, as they can be planted late and can replace corn lost through flood and other disasters.
There have been big changes made in the price of seed, especially corn. In the early days seed corn was picked in the fall, out in the field, or the good ears were thrown out as we unloaded the corn into the crib. The ears were then hung up in racks to dry. After it was dry, it was butt and tipped by hand to remove the round kernels. The rest of the ear was shelled either by hand or with a hand sheller, to get the flat kernel that was used for seed. A good crop of open-pollinated corn would yield between 50 and 75 bushel per acre. A bushel of seed corn in those days cost around $1.50 per bushel or market price.
In the late 30ís, Hi-Bred seed corn began to be planted and would cost around $8.00 to $10.00 per bushel. One bushel would plant from 7 to 10 acres, each kernel spaced from 7 to 10 inches apart. Today single cross-hybrid corn cost from $62.00 to $72.00 per 80,000 kernels and plants 3 to 4 acres, because it is planted from three and one-half to five inches apart. Most farmers plant from 18,000 to 24,000 kernel per acre.
Corn yields today vary from farm to farm due to the amount of fertilizer used and also irrigation. 100 bushel an acre is common and yields run as high as 175. Fertilizer costs run around $40.00 per acre and irrigation is costly too. Most corn today is combined in the filed (picked and shelled) and if hired, that costs around $20.00 to $25.00 per acre. It usually is too wet to safely bin, so it as to be dried. If 10 points moisture is removed, it would cost about 10 cents per bushel.
Much of the farm ground is rented on a 50-50 share basis, but more is being rented for cash all the time. Cash rent varies from $75 per acre to $125 or more.
Woodbury County Coordinator
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