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We're pretty good when we look ourselves over: Read this survey of farm progress and see another day comes to farming.

That was the headline on this story in 1928. Today, ours would be "How homesteading bit the dust."

This story contributes to several of our goals for this issue. It succinctly covers the transition of homesteading to farming, and agribusiness. It describes real history--not the doings of kings and presidents and their laws and wars, but the progress of regular everyday people, on the farm. And it should provide some reassurance, in a perverse way, to those new to homesteading who lament their lack of knowledge and experience: farmers had that same problem themselves 70 years ago! Finally, notice how this "state-of-the-art" farming has changed since then ... and is still evolving.

The man who "was raised on a farm" but who has spent 40 busy years in a city would find himself an agricultural Rip Van Winkle if he should go back on a farm today. Of course, he could apply his boyhood knowledge of milking cows, currying horses and handling a pitchfork, but the new things that he would have to learn would be almost without number.

The farm boy of 40 years ago had never seen a tractor, or a two-row cultivator, or a manure spreader, or a combine, or even a gasoline engine. He had possibly read about alfalfa in the farm papers but the chances are at least a thousand to one that he had never seen an alfalfa field. Sweet clover was only a weed; Sudan grass and Kherson oats were unknown in America. A few farmers, mostly Mennonite immigrants, were just learning that Turkey Red wheat is well adapted to large areas in Kansas and Nebraska.

No farm boy of 40 years ago ever helped administer anti-hog cholera serum to the hogs or black-leg vaccine to the calves or learned how to treat seed oats for smut or seed potatoes for scab, or how to hitch six horses to a gang plow. A few boys may have dusted the cabbages with ashes or slaked lime to discourage the cabbage butterfly, but no attempt was made to control the coddling moth. No boy of that day knew anything about hog oilers, tank heaters, blue ointment, self-feeders, blow stackers, or a hundred other articles that are today in common use.

All the older farmers of today recognize these changes of the past 40 or 50 years, but very few men realized that the period of most rapid change in Corn Belt agriculture has been the eight years since 1920. The low purchasing power of farm products, that is the high cost of labor, machinery, clothing, furniture and other farm supplies when measured in bushels of grain or pounds of cattle, has stimulated thought and accelerated the normal rate of change.

Farm labor costs have been decreased by the use of labor-saving machinery. The two-row lister, the two-row cultivator, the weeder, the corn picker, the tractor, and the truck have made enormous gains in popularity in the past few years.

Meeting the freight rates

The increase in freight rates has been responsible for some important changes in farm operations. Even before rates were raised it cost less to transport a carload of hogs, or butter or eggs from the western part of the Corn Belt to the industrial regions east of the Appalachian mountains than it did to transport the feed required to produce these products. Because of the necessity of decreasing transportation costs, thousands of farmers who live west of the Mississippi River have made notable changes in the relative importance of their farm enterprises. Hog production has increased in the past seven years in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Conversely, hog production has decreased in every state east of the Mississippi river.

Hog production has also increased in efficiency in Corn Belt states. The plan of hog lot sanitation worked out by Brayton Ransom in McLean County, Illinois, is now an accepted practice among successful hog men. We know the life history of the roundworm and how to control him, and incidentally the system of hog lot sanitation which controls the roundworm also controls various filth-borne diseases. As a matter of course the hog that is free from disease and parasites makes cheaper gains. Labor costs have been reduced by the use of the self-feeder and by letting the hogs husk their corn.

The increase in butter production--an average of 99 percent--has been even more striking in the West North Central group of states than has the increase in hog production' Since 1920 factory butter production increased 64 percent in Wisconsin and increased materially in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. It decreased in every state east of Ohio and north of the Potomac River except Rhode Island and in Rhode Island, production was but 17,000 pounds greater in 1927 than in 1920.

Several of the states in the western portion of the Corn Belt have increased cheese production since 1920. Cheese production in Ohio and in nearly every state east of Ohio has decreased during these same years.

Methods used in caring for poultry have changed rapidly in the past few years. Brooder stoves, laying mash, balanced rations, insect control, sanitation and culling have decreased the labor cost and feed cost. Poultry has risen from a minor to a major enterprise on thousands of farms.

A year-round job

We are all interested in wages per hour and wages per month but the final analysis is wages per year that really count.

The desire to organize the farm business so as to distribute labor throughout the year is one of the reasons for the many recent changes in middlewestern agriculture. Winter dairying, poultry, cattle feeding and other livestock enterprises supply revenue-producing labor for the winter months. The use of labor-saving equipment permits many farmers to give attention to livestock in the summer without decreasing their crop acreage.

It is hard to find a stopping place in telling the story of increased efficiency in farming. The increase of labor efficiency through the use of more horses per man, the treatment of seed wheat to prevent smut, the cow testing associations, the new strains of wheat, oats and barley, the increased use of electricity to lighten labor indoors and out--these are just a few of the things that might be described to indicate the changes of the last few years.

Unquestionably the cause for many of the changes in farm organization is the increased use of farm account books. The farmer who keeps records soon learns which enterprises produce a profit and which should be dropped.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chain stores: The "A&P" effect on homesteading.
Next Article:The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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