SOMERS – A three-day stay in Webster County last week was, for two Swedish farmers, a bit of a homecoming.
For Henric Johansson, an active farmer, and Erik Hulten, a retired farmer, they were here to visit the Ron and Ruth Hanson farm near Somers.
It was a homecoming, of sorts, because the Swedish men spent a growing season on that farm in 1974, working for Clayton Hanson at the time.
Last week, both men, and a contingent of their farming neighbors and friends, spent time revisiting and getting to know the Hansons and, on Saturday, assisted with the Hansons’ corn harvest.
Both Johansson and Hulten have been back to visit several times since their apprenticeship in American farming, and subsequent immersion language training.
“These men came here knowing a few English words,” said Ron Hanson.
But by the time they left, they spoke fairly fluent English, slang and all.
Johansson and Hulten were just two of almost two dozen Swedish young men who were sent to the Hansons’ farm from 1973 to the early 1980s to work through a growing season.
It all started, said Ron Hanson, in 1972, when a group of Swedish farmers at Iowa State University toured Clayton Hanson’s farm. One of the men, impressed with the farming operation, who had a son of working age, asked to send his son back to work a year for Hanson.
That first Swede arrived in the spring of 1973 and worked from planting through harvest. When he returned to Sweden, he nominated two others to visit in 1974 – Johansson and Hulten. They, in turn, nominated two others for 1975 and so on through 1981.
“There were 21 boys and 20 went on to farm,” Ron Hanson said. “It was like an exchange, only there wasn’t an exchange” back to Sweden.
Immigration eventually stopped issuing visas for the annual farm practice, he said, but did on occasion issue seasonal visas, like the one Johansson’s son received nine years ago to harvest alongside Ron Hanson’s crew.
On Saturday, Johansson led the contingent of from 10 to 12 farmers to Hanson’s farm to assist once again with a corn harvest.
All of the men have John Deere machines on their farms and know how to run them. They only needed to get acclimated to harvesting corn, since their own growing season is too short for corn and soybeans, so they grow more vegetables, small grains and forages.
Hulten said the harvesting activity from 1974 to 2016 was similar, but on a bigger scale now than before.
He said he had a small farm breeding pigs and growing wheat, but sold the operation and its 50 acres 11 years ago to drive tour buses.
“I felt it was enough,” he said.
In 1974, he remembers two small combines emptying into a straight truck which, in turn, took corn either to a dryer and then stored it in one of 40 grain bins to keep under government contract.
Sometimes loads went to nearby Farnhamville for storage or straight cash sale.
Today, there’s one large combine – a John Deere S680 – and any one of six tractors on the farm that can pull tandem grain carts or, as on Saturday, a 1,200-bushel Brent grain cart.
Johansson said they also did custom field work for neighboring farms during the 1974 growing season.
“But Mr. Clayton let us run all the equipment and let us arrange how we worked,” Johansson said. “He’d tell us what we had to do and said, ‘however you want to do it, but get it done.’
“But today it is more efficient. The combine is not supposed to stop. It needs to run all day.”
Ron Hanson said in 1974 the family was farming about 600 acres.
“By the time dad quit,” he said, “it was about 1,200 acres. Today, it’s quite a bit bigger.”
In 1974, the men worked with a 12-row planter and six-row corn head. Today it’s a 24-row planter and 12-row corn head.
“In the future, it might be a 36-row planter,” Hanson said, “but we’ll keep the 12-row corn head.”
Hanson said he was not farming with his father during the first years the Swedes became annual workers. At that time he was an air traffic controller in Kansas City.
He returned in 1976 to start farming with his father.
But he remembers each Swede who worked on the farm before and after his own return.
When asked if there was a family blood tie with any of the Swedes, Ron Hanson said there was not, “but they feel like family.”
In 1974, a 20-year-old Johansson said the crew for Clayton Hanson consisted only of himself, Hulten and one American worker.
“We did everything. When the weather was good, we worked long hours.”
However, when the spring work was over, they had some time off; meeting area farmers who spoke Swedish was enjoyable, but they also traveled, including spending a month in California.
Johansson said he still has his farm, but his son is renting the 1,200 acres.
They grow wheat, oats, barley, with some acres reserved for organic small grain crops.
“We also raise clover for biogas,” Johansson said, “and the byproduct is a good fertilizer.”
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