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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Modern vs. Vintage Farming

article number 513
article date 12-22-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Faces On Our Farms, 1976, Part 4: Business of Farming
by USDA
   

From the USDA 1976 Yearbook of Agriculture.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pictures are placed after the text which refers to the picture.

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Farming is the nation’s biggest business. The operators of the 2.8 million farms, their family labor, and hired help make up 4.4 million farmworkers—more workers than in the transportation, steel and automobile industries combined.

One farmworker now supplies enough food and fiber for 56 people, up from 19 only 20 years ago. Output per farmworker is increasing at three times the rate in industry. The food shows up in the supermarket in 6,000 to 8,000 different forms.

Farmers produce 53 percent more crops on 6 percent fewer acres than did their fathers. Now less than 5 percent of the population, farm people produce enough food to make Americans better fed, for less of their incomes, than anywhere else in the world.

There’s enough more to make us the world’s largest agricultural exporters, supplying more than half of the feed grains and nearly half the wheat moving across international boundaries, and 70 percent of the soybeans.

In 1975 we exported about $22 billion of agricultural products, $12 billion more than we imported. With the balance, we bought much-needed petroleum, important minerals, and consumer goods vital to the level of living of American consumers.

A fisheye lens 40 feet above carousels for cows in Norco, California, captures the mode of modern milking . . . modifying bovine behavior to the demands of sanitary, efficient mass production. Cows are washed by rotating sprinklers, herded toward a carousel by an automated gate, finally are milked and fed in a carousel.

   
Photo by Dana Downie.

Ken Horn works on the farm books while his wife, Roberta, prepares supper in their Plymouth, Maine, home. Most farmers, or their wives, keep their own farm income, expense and tax records.

   
Photo by George Robinson.

Farming provides the largest group of independent businessmen in America. They provide their own labor, finances, skills, marketing and management. The family lives at the business and shares the work. If they do well, they all prosper; if they fail, they all suffer. They seldom brag, because they know that things which look great today can look bad tomorrow as a result of weather, disease, insects or a falling market.

Out of it comes a humility, a deep faith, a readiness to accept disappointment, and a reluctance to admit that things are going well.

To get the maximum results from pesticides applied to a field, Carlton Garner of North Carolina participates in an Extension Service pest management program.

   
Photo by Michelle Bogre.

Douglas Peedin records the number of insects in the field based on a sampling technique. Using this information, the Extension Service advises Garner on the amount and frequency of pesticide applications. The program saves farmers money and reduces environmental contamination.

   
Photo by William Carnahan.

With computer printouts, Extension Service farm management specialist Douglas Duey, right, helps Wayne Nielsen of Lincoln, Nebraska, analyze his cash flow and overall farm business situation.

   
Photo by Bart Stewart.

Business talk among farmers and ranchers is mostly informal, down-to-earth. While waiting for lunch, Walter Bracht and his son-in-law Joe Caddy stretch out on the floor to discuss the moisture content of the wheat Bracht had just delivered to the elevator.

   
Photo by Michelle Bogre.

Salesman Bob Vechtel and Harry Doyle stop off at the farm office of Ken Mowry and his father, Clarence, at Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania.

   
Photo by Robert Bjork.

Just as some businessmen frame the first dollar they make, Tom Mertensmeyer has samples of his first crops on the wall of his office at Carrollton, Missouri.

   
Photo by Michelle Bogre.

The oval door of a 30,000-bushel grain bin at an Illinois equipment show frames a discussion. Much farm business is conducted on personal word. It’s a matter of great pride that a man is as good as his word; no written contract needed.

   
Photo by John Harvey.

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The farmstead buildings are the heart of the farm business, especially if it’s a livestock farm like the John Derksen and Sons farm near South Bend, Indiana. There are barns to house the livestock, machine sheds to protect machinery, circular bins for grain, and silos for silage made from the corn (foreground).

   
Photo by Paul Conklin.
   
Photo by Paul Conklin.

Farmers had an average of $184,545 assets per farm in 1975. Nearly three-fourths of that, $131,733, was tied up in real estate.

Non-real estate assets per farm averaged $8,716 in livestock and poultry, $19,791 in machinery and motor vehicles, $8,225 in crops stored on and off the farm, $5,473 in household equipment and furnishings, $5,342 in deposits and currency, $1,536 in U.S. savings bonds, and $3,729 in investment in cooperatives.

Since so much money is tied up in production, farming is a business where you can live poor all your life and die rich.

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A computer, television monitors, and human judgment play key roles in the huge feedlot meat “factory” that is Monfort of Colorado, Inc. at Greeley, Colorado. As many as 250,000 head of cattle can be fed at one time in the unusually large operation.

The Monfort firm buys feeder steers weighing about 650 to 850 pounds each at auctions and from farmers and ranchers. When Monfort is through feeding them a least-cost ration determined by a computer, they average 1,175 pounds each. About 90 percent of them are graded USDA Choice.

Only about one percent of US. farms are corporations, and 9 out of 10 of them are family-type corporations formed to pass the farm from one generation to the next.

A feed console operator watches a television monitor to see when a truck is in position to receive its load of computer-calculated feed ingredients. She releases the ingredients into the truck and tells the operator by radio which pen gets the feed. The feed is mixed in the truck on the way to the animals.

   
Photo by Michael Lawton.

Separate pens of beef cattle fill acres of Colorado countryside at the Monfort operation. Private roads for trucks to bring feed and haul cattle away to market interlace the pens. The animals in each pen are nearly all the same age and stage of development so that they can be marketed at the same time. This separation also helps keep other records, such as weight gain.

   
Photo by Michael Lawton.

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After food and fiber leave the farms, they must get to you in your local store in a form you can use. Agriculture needs the services of 8 to 10 million people to process, transport, store, and merchandise the output of the Nation’s farms.

For example, the baking industry, including plants for making bread, biscuits and crackers, employs a quarter million workers and has a payroll of $2.3 billion. Cotton mills and finishing plants employ 152,000 workers and have payrolls of almost $1 billion.

Investments of the cooperatives and corporations in food and fiber processing and marketing run into many billions of dollars. Packaging and transportation alone cost about $20 billion a year. About 60 per cent of the consumer cost of food is added after it leaves the farm.

Imposing as an aircraft carrier on the prairie, Elevator B of Far-Mar-Co., Inc., Hutchinson, Kansas, is only 67 feet short of a half-mile long. Its 1,099 bins are 127 feet tall. Yet its capacity of 18 million bushels of wheat represents the production of only three Kansas wheat counties in a bumper year.

   
Photo by Bill Marr.

Far-Mar-Co. is a federated cooperative—it is owned by farmer cooperatives which, in this case, are owned by more than 300,000 farmers.

This gin in Tunica County, Mississippi, bales as much cotton in an hour as a mechanical cotton picker can harvest in a day. It separates cotton fiber from the cotton seed, then cleans it for textile processing. Machines press the cotton into ultra-compact bales weighing about 500 pounds and wrap them in plastic for extra protection.

   
Photo by David Warren.

Tank truck deliveries of scientifically formulated feed save farmers large on-site investments in feed storage and mixing facilities. The feed arriving at the Bateman farm in West Jordan, Utah, is a premixed, high-nutrient pelletized feed. It’s unloaded into a hopper car, which, in turn is emptied into feeding troughs.

   
Photo by John Running.

Tractor tires are a high cost item in the modern farmer’s budget. Tires like these retail for $1,000 to $1,200 each. For a heavy vehicle with eight wheels, that’s a possible investment of $9,600.

   
Photo by Gordon Baer.

Will it pay to buy tubing to drain a piece of land? Farmers always face the question: Will it pay? How soon? How long will it tie up the money? Will it pay better to put on another $500 of fertilizer, or put the money in pesticides? Sell the corn or buy feeder pigs? Farmers are walking computers always balancing one choice against another.

   
Photo by Gordon Baer.

You have to stay flexible. When competition from the South made raising and dressing poultry unprofitable for Wisconsin farmer Ben Turzinski, he started buying dressed broilers in Alabama and selling them in Wisconsin. He contracts to truck the broilers north; owns five refrigerated trucks for local distribution.

He also grows corn on 500 acres, shells it, dries it and sells it to local dairymen. He contracts to raise snap beans on another 500 acres. “We raised nine children on this land,’ Turzinski adds. His four sons are in the business with him.

   
Photo by B. Wolfgang Hoffman.

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When it is 30 miles to the nearest town, a plane can be mighty useful—for buying replacement parts, getting someone to a doctor, going to a field day, finding cattle after a storm, and dozens of other things. There are 10,000 members of International Flying Farmers—which includes principally the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

   
Photo by John White.

About 50 farmers and ranchers from remote areas of Colorado flew into Limon, Colorado, (population 1,800) for the community’s annual Harvest Festival in 1975.

   
Photo by John White.

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Communication keeps the machinery of any business operating. At morning coffee, all hands at the Russ Jeckel farm in Illinois get a chance to plan the day. The weather may change the plan, so you have to “stay loose.”

   
Photo by William Kuykendall.

A key member of the team, Mary Jeckel, handles the books.

   
Photo by William Kuykendall.

The “team,” left to right, Laverne Debatin, Russ Jeckel, Greg Nelson, John Boudeman, John Jeckel (Russ’s father), and John Deuth, a student trainee on the 500-acre corn/hog farm.

   
Photo by William Kuykendall.

Jeckel listens to Mike Still, agriculture teacher at Illinois Central College, which sends trainees to work with Jeckel.

   
Photo by William Kuykendall.

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Some farmers sell their products directly to the customer. It’s not new—it’s as old as farming itself—but somewhat uncommon today. Mr. and Mrs. George R. McCoy specialize in fresh sweet corn and other vegetables on their 20-acre Jackson, Mississippi, farm.

   
Photo by David Warren.
   
Photo by David Warren.
   
Photo by David Warren.

The McCoys take in $8-10,000 a year. This kind of farming takes hard work, long hours, sales know-how and overall good management.

   
Photo by David Warren.
   
Photo by David Warren.

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National and international shows and exhibits provide opportunities for farmers to see the latest tools of their business. Sometimes a farmer turns over his land for the exhibition of machinery and demonstration of new seeds and equipment.

Farmers drive long distances or fly in to see how new machines operate under field conditions. Folks come from overseas to observe and buy. There are about 4,000 county, state and other major farm shows in the U.S. each year.

Under the open skies of Malta, Illinois, the Farm Progress Show in 1975 drew as many as 100,000 people a day for three days.

   
Photo by Gordon Baer.

They came to see first hand, how the latest farm machinery, equipment, chemicals and other technological improvements worked on real soil and real crops. It was a great day for agricultural comparison shoppers.

   
Photo by Gordon Baer.

Japanese were among those attending and buying at the National Barrow Show in Austin, Minnesota, in September, 1975.

   
Photo by David Brill.

The Japanese are building up their hog industry—an industry now small but expected to grow. That could increase opportunities for the sale of feed grains from the U.S. There are now more acres in the U.S. growing food for Japan than there are acres of farmland in Japan.

At the Farm Progress Show, farmers saw a lot of horsepower at work—including an unusual tractor that could cost $60-80,000, depending on options and other features. This behemoth was pulling 14 bottoms (plow blades) with 636 horsepower springing from twin diesel engines. It weighed 20 tons.

   
Photo by John Harvey.

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Farmers are active in the leadership of their community—in their cooperatives, farm organizations, commodity groups, conservation societies, banks, churches, hospitals, schools and local government. They know the value of a dollar and hard work—wisdom gained from running their own farm businesses.

Besides operating his 300-cow dairy farm, Dale Bateman is a member of the High Council in the Church of Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ at West Jordan, Utah.

   
Photo by John Running.

Farmers are almost always willing to share their time and good ideas. In 1975, Dwain Adkinson, a beef cattle breeder at Raymondville, Missouri, was assistant vice president of his production credit association. His wife Polly taught art in a nearby elementary school. They opened their farm to the Young Farmers Tour so that others could see their plantings of caucasian bluestem grass for pasture.

   
Photo by Angus McDougall.

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Farmers keep tuned into outside events in order to evaluate the effect on their production and marketing plans. Rural mass media beam a steady stream of business information directly at farmers. The weather and daily markets are a chief concern. How-to articles in magazines are read with keen interest. Successful farmers never stop trying to do the job better.

At 5 am, daily, Maine potato grower Larry Park watches the Potato Pickers TV Special while his wife Edith prepares breakfast.

   
Photo by George Robinson.

Farmers call the station to say whether they will be planting, harvesting or weeding that day, and the station passes on the information to work crews. The program also features market news, interviews with specialists, and goings-on around the farm community.

Listening to the noon market report is a ritual across the country, as it is for Herman White, tobacco farmer.

   
Photo by Duane Dailey.

While other members of the family relax with a game of cards after a hard day’s work, E. W. Raasch, Jr., reads a magazine to pick up new ideas from other farmers about hog breeding and grain growing.

   
Photo by Michelle Bogre.
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