We have a field of 160 acres on our farm. It is the kind of field that every farmer enjoys. It’s productive, rectangular, and well drained.
I know this field well as it is on the farm where I grew up. I can stand in this field and recall what the different parts of the field were used for in the 60-plus years I know.
In the 1950s and ’60s, my dad raised oats, hay, and corn plus had an area that was fenced off where he pasture-farrowed hogs on those 160 acres.
The rotation was oats, alfalfa for hay, along with the hog pasture, and corn. The oats were used to feed the hogs and chickens. Oat straw was baled for bedding. Most of the corn fed the cattle as silage and grain.
There were other fields on our farm that were part of this same rotation that changed every year. Most any crop that was raised went to feed and care for the livestock.
The last of the livestock left the farm in the late ’80s and corn became a cash crop.
About this same time, the farm was put into the CRP acres and for 10 years it raised switch grass and pheasants, lots of pheasants.
My dad passed away in 1999 and in 2000 the CRP contract ended. After years of continuous corn followed by 10 years of switch grass, planting soybeans was the obvious choice.
With a lack of any diseases the soybeans on that first year flourished. I even got a plaque from DeKalb honoring my achievement in soybean production. After all those years of continuous corn and then switch grass, how could I lose?
The field started this century doing what most fields in this area do, alternating between corn and soybeans. When an ethanol plant was built next to our farm, I decided we could take advantage of it by going to a corn-corn-beans rotation. It has been that way for just over 10 years.
So that 160-acre field that once supported hogs, cattle, and chickens grows corn two years and soybeans the third year.
My dad planted four rows of corn at a time, harvested two rows of corn at a time with a corn picker mounted on his John Deere 720 diesel using a couple flare boxes for hauling the ear corn.
On a good year, he would be done by December first.
After harvest he would put on his heaviest clothing and plow the field using a John Deere 830 and later a 4020, then a 5020, none of them had a cab, and no way to keep warm except by what he wore. When the sun went down, the work day was done.
What looks like a nice rectangular field today that raises a single crop each year has a history that reflects the changes in farming. Most of the livestock has disappeared and only is found on farms in either small scale or large scale, nothing in between.
That field that my dad would use through the year is busy in spring with planting, the fall with harvest and is being prepared for next spring’s crop by early November as the crop has been removed in mere days.
There was a time when 160 acres would be the size of one farm, a farm that was self-sufficient for the farmer and his family.
Today 160 acres is a nice-sized field that can be planted and harvested in a couple days and raises another 50 percent more in yields than my dad.
I can’t imagine what the next 60 years will bring.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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