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article number 517
article date 01-05-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Faces On Our Farms, 1976, Part 5: Harvest

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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Harvest is the payoff. Months after entrusting seed to the soil and the weather, after pouring costly nutrients into development of the plants, after fighting off strength-stealing weeds, and in many other ways nurturing life and health into his crop, the farmer looks anxiously for undeniable signs of maturity.

Each crop makes its own unique demands upon its environment—the successful farmer is the one who knows these demands best and looks after them. His reward—his incentive from the beginning—comes with the harvest.

For U.S. farmers, the combined value of all crops harvested in 1975 was $55.7 billion—just one percent below the 1974 record of $56.4 billion.
- The corn harvest was valued at $14.38 billion;
- wheat at $7.4 billion;
- soybeans at $7 billion;
- hay at $6.5 billion;
- cotton at $2.2 billion;
- tobacco at $2.2 billion;
- grain sorghum at $1.8 billion;
- rice at $1.1 billion;
- potatoes at $1.5 billion, and
- sugarbeets at $800 million.

Wheat, hay, tobacco and potato harvests set records.

America’s modern miracle crop, soybeans, provides vital protein and oil for the U.S. and other countries.

Photo by Ray Lustig.

In the Thirties, two-thirds of the soybeans we raised were plowed under to improve the soil. By 1975, we’d learned to make soybeans far more valuable for human food and livestock feed.

U.S. production had increased by 300 times; and the crop, valued at an incredible $7 billion, had become our No. 1 agricultural export. It is typical of the changing face of rural America.

Making hay while the sun shines is an expression that still has literal meaning on the farm. On Ken Walker’s farm at Faribault, Minnesota, when the hay looks “right” and the weather is expected to remain fair for a few days, the hay is cut and left to dry—perhaps a day—then baled, loaded onto wagons and taken to the barn for storage.

Photo by Don Breneman.

Combines in the Palouse Hills of Washington roll through a wheat field on the Schultheis farm, cutting and threshing in one operation.

Photo by Doug Wilson.

In earlier days wheat was cut with a binder and set upright in shocks by hand to keep the heads dry. On threshing day, a crew pitched the bundles onto a wagon, hauled them to the thresher, and tossed them into the mouth of the “separator.” That system is now shown on “old timers” day.

Mechanization of harvests, such as carrots near Coachella, California makes it possible for farmers to concentrate on specialty crops and supply consumers with fruits and vegetables year-round. This carrot harvester enables two men to do the work of 18, a key to quick harvesting and economically priced food. Americans get their food for less of their incomes than anywhere else in the world.

Photo by Charles O’Rear.

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When it’s time to harvest, you need to keep rolling or lose the crop. Wheat farmers work into the night combining. Their grain is dry . . . so dry that a car’s backfire could ignite it . . . so ripe that high winds and rain will knock it down and ruin its quality.

Even when the crop is underground, as with potatoes, there is a right time and a wrong time to harvest. When potatoes are mature, they must be dug up and stored before they freeze.

Maine potato harvesters work far past dark to get their crop in. Yet, frustratingly, they may have to delay their start in the morning until the ground and potatoes warm up. A potato that is too cold will bruise too easily in the harvesting process.

Wheat farmers, also, must wait in the morning until the dew is off their crop before starting. You live in harmony with nature or fail.

The wheat rolling out of the spout on the Ralph A. Hansen farm in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, may end up soon as a secretary’s breakfast roll in Philadelphia. Or as a piece of life-saving bread for a child in India.

Photo by Bill Marr.

U.S. farm exports, which hit $22 billion in 1975, were our No. 1 earner of foreign exchange. This strengthened the U.S. dollar and bought much-needed petroleum and mineral imports—and the consumer items so important to our level of living.

Larry Park, in cab, works past sundown to get the potatoes on his Presque Isle, Maine, farm harvested mechanically. Theoretically, round potatoes roll to one side of sloping conveyor belt while flat Maine stones stay put. People make sure it happens that way.

Photo by George Robinson.

Cotton harvesters munch their way through a field, each picking as much in an hour as a man could pick in 72 hours.

Photo by Larry Rana.

But it takes 100 acres of one-bale-to-the-acre cotton to make a mechanical picker pay. The hand pickers that have been replaced now work in industry and business producing other goods and services.

U.S. agriculture is so efficient that only 4 1/2 percent of the population is needed to produce our food and fiber. The key to our amazing affluence: the other 95 1/2 percent produce other goods and services.

Tomatoes for processing can be picked mechanically because geneticists developed a firmer tomato that can take rough mechanical handling.

After harvesters and 10-ton trailers have cleaned out this field in Yolo County, California, tomato plants are plowed under and another crop, perhaps sugar beets or barley, is planted. Double cropping is necessary to get the income to meet today’s high costs of farming.

Photo by Jack Clark.

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A farmers’ co-op elevator waits to store the wheat being combined on a nearby farm at Farnam, Nebraska. Farmers own the elevator through the Farmers Cooperative Association, one of nearly 8,000 farmer supply and marketing cooperatives in the United States.

Photo by Bill Marr.

Rather than being at the mercy of the price paid for wheat on the day of harvest, farmers can store in the elevator until they think the price is right. That’s partly a guessing game, but farmers watch the news, keep an eye on the weather, and comb special publications for marketing intelligence. Since U.S. farmers must export two-thirds of their wheat, an event in Pakistan or in Rotterdam may affect a farmer’s wheat prices more than what happens in the next county.

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Every May the Lund Brothers of Minnesota truck their combines to Oklahoma and become part of a great custom harvest migration. Harvest crews follow the ripening grain northward to the Dakotas.

Photo by Bill Marr.

The Lunds’ machines combine some 50 acres a day apiece, with the Lunds charging about $8 an acre for the job.

Photo by Bill Marr.

Custom operators need good weather, dependable machines, patience to do their own laundry, and huge quantities of fuel.

Photo by Bill Marr.

An estimated 141 million gallons of petroleum fuel were needed by all farmers and operators to harvest the U.S. wheat crop in 1975.

Finally, it is September and there is no more wheat to harvest in the Great Plains. Then the Lunds—Gordon, Irvin, Larry and Gary and their sons—head for Minnesota and a winter of school, odd jobs, mechanical repairs, trucking, flying and ice fishing.

Handling hay bales is a tough job, but Nancy Breneman, a secretary in an international program at the University of Minnesota, likes to keep her hand in helping her father, Clarence Lauck, on his farm near Canby, Minnesota.

Photo by Don Breneman.

Most every farm girl or wife helps with the heavy work now and then when there’s a rush job to finish. The farm wife is a full partner in managing and operating the family farm business.

Floyd and Davis Haas struggle to get the last half-bale out of their baler.

Photo by Bill Marr.

Many farm tasks are two-man jobs, but that’s only one of the reasons why a high percent of U.S. farms are partnerships, mostly father-and-son and brother-and-brother. Mainly, partnerships are a way for a young man to meet the staggering costs of getting started in farming and to keep the farm in the family.

The whole corn plant, stalk and ears, is chewed up by this field chopper at Walworth, Wisconsin, and is blown into the trailing wagon.

Photo by David Brill.

The succulent mixture of green stalks and grain is hauled to an upright silo or a horizontal trench silo for storing. Packed solid, it ferments slightly in its juices and remains a tasty dish for dairy cattle throughout the winter.

What started as green leaves in a field converting energy from the sun’s rays will end up as ice cream for dessert. That’s what agriculture is all about.

Farmers continually check their equipment for possible trouble. Paul Nelson, a district conservationist who gets into wheat harvesting while on vacation each year, is checking the combine to see that all is going well. Wheat is being cut on the Ralph A. Hansen farm at Kingfisher, Oklahoma.

Photo by Bill Marr.

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Both the alfalfa plants being windrowed in the foreground and the industrial plants silhouetted in the background have been making nitrogen fertilizer.

Photo by Charles O’Rear.

Alfalfa, with the help of nitrogen-fixing microbes on its roots, converts nitrogen from the air into nutrients for the soil on the Jim Preece farm in the Imperial Valley in California. Beyond are the towers of Valley Nitrogen Producers, Inc., a farm-owned cooperative producing both liquid and dry fertilizers.

Nitrogen is one of the modern miracles that helped raise U.S. corn yields from 42 bushels per acre in 1945 to 86 bushels per acre in 1975. It’s one of the developments that keep food plentiful at reasonable prices.

That beautiful black oak that Jerry Cook of Hartshorn, Missouri, is felling is a crop. It just takes longer to mature than most crops. It may end up as a beautiful piece of furniture, or one of dozens of other things.

Photo by Bill Marr.

About 26 percent of the nation’s commercial timberland is on farms. To get the wood we need when we want it takes long-range planning. That may stretch beyond a farmer’s career; he needs to feel that one day it will be a paying crop for someone, perhaps his son.

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More than 12 billion cubic feet of wood are harvested each year in the United States. People use it for houses and firewood, for letters and newspapers, to sit or ride on, to play upon, to wear and for a myriad of other uses.

By the year 2000, American production of wood is expected to reach between 16.4 and 21.9 billion cubic feet—depending on prices.

To meet this demand—and a lot of other needs such as a home for wildlife and recreation for city folks—there are 754 million acres of forest land in the United States. Two-thirds of that is capable of producing wood commercially, and more than 70 percent of it is privately owned.

There’ll be a lot of good times around the fireplace when Brooks Mills’ grey birch, harvested in Eddington, Maine, reaches its final destination. Helping Brooks in the invigorating work were Larry Petty, 16, and Brooks’ son, John, 13.

Photo by George Robinson.

Brooks, who is driving the tracked vehicle especially adapted to logging, was a stockbroker but quit to raise organic produce, livestock, Christmas trees, pulpwood and firewood.

Apples such as these in Rappahannock County, Virginia, provided a bumper harvest of 7.2 billion pounds in 1975, at least 7 percent higher than in any of the previous 15 years.

Photo by Byron Schumaker.

Most apples are sold in the fresh market—kept fresh by controlled atmospheric storage using carbon dioxide gas. However, more and more people are eating apples in some processed form.

Mrs. Jose Lopez, a former Los Angeles school teacher, is one of about 209,000 migrant workers in the United States who make harvest time possible among crops which are not harvested mechanically. Nearly the entire apple crop is picked by hand. Mrs. Lopez, working in a Washington orchard, says she is not a fast picker because she is careful not to bruise the apples.

Photo by Earl Otis.

A bubble in a ripe cranberry makes this unique harvesting system possible in Massachusetts. Fields of cranberry bushes are flooded and a beater churns the berries off the bushes. The cranberries—with their bubbles—float to the surface.

Photo by George Robinson.

Harvesters using floating 2x4 or 2x6 “fences” or “booms” corral the cranberries into one corner of the harvested area for gathering and transporting to market. Workers push the floating berries onto a conveyor belt, which lifts them into trucks. The cranberry harvest is valued at $24 million a year in the U.S.

Photo by George Robinson.

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The nursery business has its own form of harvesting. It’s really transplanting—beautifying the face of urban America.

New homes need new lawns, new shrubs, new trees and new flowers as soon as possible. Older lawns need a face lifting every now and then. The demand is insatiable and business is good. Sod alone is a quarter-billion dollar a year business.

A special machine slips a blade beneath the sod like a spatula under a pancake and rolls up sod in strips 18 inches wide and 6 feet long on the Tuckahoe Turf Farms, Slocum, Rhode Island. Another machine cuts strips 4 feet wide and 63 feet long for football fields and other large grass areas.

Photo by James Karales.

The nursery business has a hard time keeping up with demand. Sales spurted 30 percent between 1964 and 1969 and have grown tremendously since then. Trees and shrubs, such as those being moved at the Bald Hill Nurseries, Exeter, Rhode Island, help account for the $900 million annual wholesale nursery business in trees, shrubs and vines. There’s also a big business in cut flowers, lettuce under glass, seeds, bulbs, and other items.

Photo by James Karales.

Too big to lift, so roll it. A lost fact: who was the first to make a smiling jack-o’-lantern? But hats off to the jolly pumpkin in the Bicentennial year: he’s a native American all the way.

Photo by Olivia Carlisle.

Harvesting cabbage is only partly mechanized and is a job for a big crew on the Krunmueller Farm near San Juan, Texas. Workers cut the mature cabbage heads and drop them onto a conveyor belt which carries them to a wagon.

Photo by Cornelius Keyes.

Immature heads may never be picked, because it won’t pay to go over the field again. This hand-harvesting method has been largely replaced by complete machine harvesting. Cabbage ranks about 40th among the 100 or so major crops harvested by farmers.

Tobacco, one of America’s earliest commercial crops, is grown and cured in many different ways for special uses. This shade tobacco, grown under a cheesecloth cover on the Phelps Kendrick Farm at Windsor, Connecticut, is thin-leaved and ideal for cigar wrapping. Teenager Bob Phillips is carefully picking the leaves that will bring about $6 a pound.

Photo by George Gardner.

Pickers make about seven harvest runs during the July-September season, taking only the lower three leaves off each plant during a run.

Pineapples are harvested once a year for three years—then yields drop sharply and the plants are plowed under. This was the second picking on the Richard Tayamahoshi farm, Hawaii.

Photo by Charles O’Rear.

Pineapple production in the United States has dropped 26 percent in the last 10 years. Production has been shifting to the Philippines, Taiwan and Mexico, largely because of lower labor and land costs there. Yet 704,000 tons were produced in the U.S. in 1974.

Delicate handling is required for grapes headed for the fresh market. Laura Bowerman and grandson, Pat, help in the harvest.

Photo by Michelle Bogre.

Nearly two-thirds of grapes produced in the U.S. go into wine, only 11 percent into the fresh market (the rest into raisins, juice and jelly). U.S. per capita wine consumption has increased 89 percent in the last 15 years.

Myron Nickerson lassoes barrels of potatoes on the ground and flicks a switch with his left hand to hoist them onto the flatbed truck.

Photo by George Robinson.

Steve Giberson rolls them into place.

Photo by George Robinson.

Workers fill the barrels by hand after the mechanical digger turns up the spuds near Presque Isle, Maine.

Youngsters are still released from school to help during the Maine potato harvest; a practice once common in all rural America. The press of summer farm work is why we developed a tradition of winter school and summer vacations.

Production of sunflowers has skyrocketed in recent years. In 1975, farmers harvested 1 1/4 million acres compared with only 53,000 acres ten years earlier. A special head on the combine at Aberdeen, South Dakota, harvests the seeds—which are used mainly for cooking oils, salad oils, margarine, mayonnaise, birdseed and confections.

Photo by Lowell Georgia.

Catfish are harvested year-round and about 50 million pounds are produced each year in the U.S.

Commercial production occupies about 55,000 acres of water. At the C. H. Block farm near Tunica, Mississippi, catfish are stocked at about 2,300 to the acre in 150 acres of pond area. Block was getting about 55 cents a pound for his fish in 1975.

Photo by David Warren.

Harvesting worms may not be everybody’s idea of farming but Faye Hutchinson and her husband Harold make a living at it near Bolla, Missouri.

Photo by Bill Marr.

Beds containing about 50,000 worms each are watered down each morning, then dusted with corn meal as a feed. About 200,000 of the older worms are picked and bagged each week, then delivered by Hutchinsons’ crew to bait shops throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

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One of the first signs of early spring in Vermont: sap buckets hanging on the maple trees.

Photo by Byron Schumaker.

Farmers also collect sap with plastic pipes running from the trees to a tank or sugar house.

Photo by Byron Schumaker.

Four generations of the Wright family of Enosburg, Vermont, use both the pipeline and the bucket method in their family syrup business. The sap is heated at the sugar house until it has the consistency of syrup.

The early sap, gathered around mid-March in Vermont, provides the best grade of syrup (AA or Fancy), which Ruth Wright describes as having a “very light mellow soft maple flavor.”

Photo by Byron Schumaker.
Photo by Byron Schumaker.
Photo by Byron Schumaker.

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In dollars, hay is the fourth most valuable crop harvested in the United States—more valuable than cotton and tobacco combined. Yet harvesting can be the most wretched work on a farm.

First, the hay has to be the right maturity, but loses its nutritive quality if it gets much beyond that—and the weather has to be good. That means hurry, hurry when things are just right.

Hurrying often involves hand-tossing bales that can weigh as much as 50 pounds each. Much of our nation’s meat and milk supply comes from grass and hay grown on rough land that otherwise would be wasted.

That huge “marshmallow” of hay was built to stay outdoors to provide feed for livestock on the Darrell Wallace farm at Britton, South Dakota. The hay is windrowed, then blown onto a flatbed trailer and compressed with huge wing-like metal arms. The system is not satisfactory in damper climates because the hay might spoil.

Photo by Lowell Georgia.

One of the hottest jobs is catching bales of hay at the end of an elevator and wrestling them into place in the haymow. If the haymow’s under a tin roof on a humid day, catching even a whiff of a breeze at the open door is a lifesaver. The wide-spaced boards in the Davis Haas barn help air circulate to cure the hay.

Photo by Bill Marr.

Wet hay generates heat and spontaneous combustion will burn down the barn. The art is knowing when the hay is dry enough to store, but not so dry the leaves shatter off from handling.

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You help a neighbor in need; it’s one of the things you do. It has always been that way, from the time pioneers helped a new neighbor raise a barn or build a cabin.

The fierce independence of farmers melts like butter when a neighbor needs a hand. He’ll pay it back later, double fold, to you or someone else in need. Being a good neighbor is the highest accolade in rural America.

When Frank Clayburg of Coon Rapids, Iowa, was hospitalized, neighbors rolled in with 10 corn combines and harvested his 100 acres in four hours.

Photo by John White.

Mrs. Lucille M. Lamp, co-owner of the restaurant which provided free meals to the Clayburg helpers, serves the hungry men.

Photo by John White.

Joe Shirbroun stands on the combine watching the last of Clayburg’s grain auger into the truck.

Photo by John White.

When transportation problems arose at Yuton, Illinois, 800,000 bushels of corn from 1975’s bumper crop had to be piled on the ground.

Photo by Paul Conklin.

The McLean County Service Company, which owns the elevators, eventually trucked the corn to Peoria, where barges moved it to downstream points.

Photo by Paul Conklin.

When transportation doesn’t move the harvest, farmers’ prices and incomes suffer. America’s food supply, while bountiful, relies on an intricate transportation network moving it from farms, to processing plants, to your local store.

Half the grain moving across international boundaries in 1975 was U.S. grain. To keep that market, we must be dependable suppliers—that includes getting it to the destination on time.

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Tomorrow America will wake up hungry again. In the endless cycle of raising America’s food, harvest is followed inevitably by preparation for another crop. This means plowing up the fields that raised this year’s crops to get ready to plant next year, as Dave Kiley of St. Joseph, Iowa is doing.

Photo by Thomas DeFeo.

Whether this was a good year or a bad year for him, he must be an eternal optimist and expect next year to be better.

The secret of our affluence is that he has an incentive to remain the world’s most efficient supplier of food.

In our system, the government doesn’t tell him what to do; nor a foreman, a board nor a committee. He is what he is because his farm is his land, his home, and he is the planner, worker, manager, technician, and person who, along with his family, makes it go.

The ingenuity and drive are his . . . as is his storehouse of knowledge, and the art and judgment born of experience, partly passed from generation to generation. It is all measured by his harvest. If his harvest, and that of 2.8 million other farmers, is good, then America eats well.

If the incentive isn’t there to work long hours, conserve the soil, take chances, endure the disappointments, go in debt, invest in machinery, keep up with modern methods—and if the income isn’t there to make it possible—then we all fail with him.

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