Fremont County, Iowa

Harvest Time
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
October 24, 2014

This is the time of year when a childhood memory comes back to me. My sister and I, ages 3 and 7 respectively, are sitting in the corner of a wagon being drawn by horses through a cornfield. Overhead, ears of corn are being thrown against the back-board into the wagon. I watch them go sailing overhead and never worry about being hit. It is harvest time and my parents are hand-picking the corn. I remember the horses spending a whole day at a time slowly walking through the field.

Dad farmed 400 acres of which 75 acres was corn, 75 acres oats and 75 acres hay. He rotated those three crops from field to field. When I asked him recently about earlier crops he talked about how much things have changed. Dad had a 10-row planter. He told me that for a good day of planting he would finish seeding 10 acres of corn. He chuckled that today it would take fifteen minutes to plant ten acres with the 24-row planters now used. His corn plants were several inches apart as opposed to today where they are planted as close together as possible. Then the idea was to get very large ears. Today the goal is to get many smaller ears that will go through the picker easier.

His early summer was spent cultivating the corn to get rid of the weeds. It was a good year if the corn by the fourth of July was “laid by”; meaning the corn was too tall to cultivate and the weeds were gone. Today cultivating is not done, instead the corn plants grow so close together that an herbicide can take care of the weeds.

Today it is very common to see two ears on a plant; then it was the one big ear. Dad considered a great crop as being 187 bushel per acre. Today a good crop is well over 200 bushel per acre.

Dad was a young man in the late forties and does not remember ever considering growing soy beans. Oats was his crop mainly because he fed livestock. The oats were good food for the hogs. He expected to get sixty to seventy bushels per acre. His hay crop was important to feed the cattle.

I asked him if he sold his crop as he picked it. He didn’t because my parent’s cash crop was animals. They fed cattle and hogs. I remember long lines of trucks being used to take the cattle to market. We also had those days with hogs.

As dad got ready to sell he listened closely to the markets over radio KMA. He talked to livestock buyers from the Omaha markets who bought for packing plants. Then the day arrived when the trucks left for Omaha. My Mother spent the day anxiously waiting to learn what we had been paid. We rushed to the window to see how dad looked when he got out of the car as he arrived home. Most of the time he was smiling. One year it was a huge grin and Mom got a new freezer. Occasionally, he was somber and I remember my parents talking into the night on such occasions..

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