By Tony Hooker
The amazing weather we’ve experienced these last few days has expedited the completion of the harvest, and it has me reminiscing about the times I spent as a kid on my grandparents’ farm. Some of my fondest memories involve riding on the old Gleaner combine picking corn or cutting beans. Of course, my favorite, favorite part was the farm lunch grandma served on the tailgate of the 63-Ford pickup. Yummy.
Of course, the farming my grandpa Hooker did is a distant cousin to today’s production farms. At his peak, he farmed 260 acres, and today’s operations are routinely 10 times that size. In many ways, this has had unintended consequences in areas no one could have foreseen. Instead of 10 families farming 500 acres, there are now one or two families farming two to five thousand. The road my grandparents lived on stands in stark testament to this fact. When I was a kid, there were six houses, filled with rowdy farm kids along it. Now, there are none. Of course, many of them moved to town near them, but some of them moved away. Back in the day, farm boys helped with the chores and were man strong by the time they reached high school. Most of them played sports, too, and fewer farm boys means fewer down linemen, on occasion.
Of course, the change in the number of family farms pales in comparison to the changes in technology over the past half century. My grandpa’s Gleaner had a six row corn head, and now there are 24 and even 30 row behemoths being utilized. I watched a 60ft platform cutting beans on YouTube. Crazy, man. Grandpa had a grain truck and two wagons and he would fill them himself and drive to the elevator. I loved riding to the elevator with him, because I was fascinated by watching the grain spill from his wagon into the pit below and then be swept up into the elevator itself. It was loud, it was dusty, and for a four-year-old boy, it was the coolest place on earth! The fact that I got a candy bar afterwards didn’t hurt matters any.
Grandpa’s combine didn’t have air conditioning. I think he bought it used for a couple thousand bucks. Actually, the first combine I remember him using didn’t even have a cab! I didn’t get to ride that one with him. He would come home from a day in the field, his skin darkened by the sun and sweat and bean dust. I was disappointed at the time that he wouldn’t let me go on that one, but retrospectively, I think I’m cool with it. Nowadays there are multiple computers on half million-dollar monster combines that can tell you just about everything you need to know about your crop as you’re harvesting it. Combines now dump into huge auger wagons that then dump into even huger semi-trailers for the trip to the elevator. Economy of scale, in a major way.
Seed too has changed drastically since Grandpa’s day. The disease, drought and flood resistance in today’s hybrids would have been unimaginable to him, as would the yields. At any rate, farming has never been for the faint of heart, and it still isn’t, but I’m thankful that they do what they do.
2020 Harvest Update
I recently checked in with several area farmers to see how their fall harvest was going. Here’s what they had to say:
Jason Watson-There were numerous challenges, but as it all shakes out we can’t be disappointed. We had a really wet spring, and for the first time in my career, I had to rip out acres and replant because the stand came up so thin. This summer, we got just enough rain at the right time to sustain us, and overall we had a good harvest.
Bill Bozdech– It looks like we’ll be wrapping up this week, and yields were all across the board. Overall, they were really good, but they got hurt a bit by the dry August. Of all the acres we farm, the boys’ (sons Case and Gage) yielded best, so I’ll be hearing about that for a while. Honestly, I was surprised by the corn harvest. It was better than I expected.
Trevor Baker-Overall, we had a good harvest. A few minor equipment issues, but overall good. I was surprised at how good the corn did, given the lack of rain. The beans we grew south of 36 were really good.
Brad Johns-The harvest really went well. The yields were better than we anticipated, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather for the harvest. I was pleasantly surprised when prices rebounded this fall. That doesn’t usually happen. It was a little scary when the winds were so high and you could see fields burning in the distance, but I had a good crew working with me. We probably lost 20 or so bushels per acre due to the lack of rain, but farms north of me had to deal with high winds and damaging hail, so overall we feel fortunate. Mother nature gave us a beautiful fall harvest.