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John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Farming Transformed

Aug 13, 2010

Last week I was down on the farm in Illinois. I still can’t get out of my mind how different the farming business is today compared with when I was a little boy. At the same time, in some respects, it’s the same.

As a boy, after milking our cows by hand, we bottled the milk in the basement of our farm house and then sold it in my Grandfather’s little store. My Dad planted our corn with two old horses pulling a two-row planter. I had to feed the chickens and gather the eggs each day. We would butcher a hog, and my Mom would can. Can you relate to that?
And now today –
 
The milk cows are gone. The chickens are gone. We don’t butcher any of our own hogs. Our two horses, named Burt and Bill, are gone along with the two-row planter. And, of course, we don’t pick any corn by hand.
 
Farming is more specialized with a big 32-row John Deere planter. We still raise hogs, corn, and soybeans.
 
Our improvement in efficiency and productivity has been amazing. Corn yields have tripled. We raised 200 head of hogs in those days. Now we raise 8,000 with double the efficiency.
How did this happen?
 
It happened because of:
  1. Selective plant and animal breeding – better plants and animals.
  2. Genetic engineering – herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides – our plants are protected against pests and weeds that suck the yield potential.
  3. Finally, today we feed the crops and animals exactly what they need to maximize their productivity.
 
Corn as an example: Soil tests give us the guidance. We put on lime if the fields are too acid. Enough nitrogen phosphate and potash to maximize yield. There is a science to raising a big crop or good hogs. You can’t feed the hogs molasses as I saw in Cuba 10 years ago. They won’t gain weight.
 
The new technology that we have available today has made all the different in the world. Think about the improvement in efficiency:
  • Less labor needed
  • Less fuel needed
  • Less land to produce more
  • And for livestock – less time to market
  • With all the changes in this farming business over the decades, there is one constant.
 
It is still exciting to grow a crop or raise a hog or calf. You can see the transformation right before your eyes. You are producing something of value. What an impressive sense of accomplishment.
 
Harvest time is just around the corner. It’s going to be fun.
 
Next week I will talk to you from Germany.
 
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.
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