Community honors long-standing farms, families

Lindsey Jackson · Thursday, March 14, 2013
Ag Appreciation Day at the West Liberty Community Center was successful, according to Wayne Steen and Cindy Mays. “I thought it went very well,” Steen said. “What a great afternoon reminiscing and celebrating West Liberty agriculture over the years,” Mays said.

The Sunday afternoon event was organized as part of West Liberty’s 175th year celebration. Steen, who is in charge of planning festivities for March (agriculture month), invited speakers such as Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Katie Meyers of FFA and also some local individuals who have agricultural blood. “I wanted to have a cross-section of farm experience,” Steen said. He invited Phyllis Kessler, Brent Daufeldt, Dave Dvorak, Leon Larson, Don Pelzer, Dick Brand and Dick Buysse to present a round-table discussion.

Mays was responsible for contacting area Century (100-year) and Heritage (150-year) Farm families. Families who chose to participate in Sunday’s celebration were of Century Farms: J. Elmer and Louise M. Kline, Walker-Kline-Ridenour-Goodman, Robert and Eleanor Staley, Vicki Hudacheck McLeod, Virgil and Peggy Meyers, Warren McIntire, Leland Spilger, Fred and Mable Welk, Donald Frank Wilson, Robert and Geraldine Ruess, Kenneth Ruess, Warren and Marie Jensen, Samuel E. & Mary F. Schneider, Avis V. Mather and Robert Brand. Heritage Farms: Ron Brown, Richard Brand and Jan and Ken Mather.

Mays said researching and visiting with the farm owners was fun. “I learned a lot about West Liberty’s farming community and I am very happy to be part of it.”

Steen welcomed Northey to the stage and, afterward, presented Northey with a 175th celebration shirt.

In summary, Northey explained how people first started coming to Iowa in the 1820s, who told others to come and so on. At that time, few Iowa residents were aware of the state’s weather history, so they were unsure as to how exactly to care for the land. Eventually people learned to use horses for cropping. Then he noted the 1940s and how much had changed in a little over 100 years. “We have many, many farms in this part of state that have been farmed more with horses than with tractors,” Northey said.

In 1838, Iowa only had 22,000 people. Northey said in two years, that number doubled and then doubled again two years later. By 1859, Iowa’s population was 643,000. “People today cannot understand the rapid growth that happened in the 1830s, 40s and 50s,” he said. “Cities and certain areas exploded with new technology and amazing things happened.”

He said one of the biggest issues in the 1800s was fencing. “It was not roads and bridges. It was fencing. What do you do to take care of animals? Fence in or fence out?”

Northey said agricultural land value in the 1800s was around $2 to $4 per acre in most counties, but was $11.27 per acre in Muscatine because of more grazing ground. Only five counties had prices over $10 per acre. “Those dollars are different than our dollars,” Northey said. “But relatively, that would have been a lot of money to buy land.”

Northey said people of the 1800s would probably not recognize the corn we grow today, or the way we grow it. But he said Iowan’s soil is phenomenal. “Appreciation needs to extend to how we rank against other countries in the world. If Iowa was a country, we would be the fourth largest corn producing country in world.” He also said Iowa would be the fifth largest pork producing country in the world. “Ag exports are one of the strongest areas of exports and have been for over 50 years.”

Northey used an ag production example of a machine that milks cows. He said some farmers have spent $150,000 for a robot milking machine that can potentially milk 60 cows up to five times each a day, or whenever the cow wishes to milk itself. “A cow knows what to do,” Northey said. “They need to take pressure off of themselves. The machine knows the cow by weighing it and by its temperature.” He also said the machine can detect an infection brewing in a cow’s udder. “It increases production with these machines. It’s a savings on labor. Well worth it,” he said.

He closed by saying Iowa’s unemployment rate is at five percent because of agriculture and that Iowa ag sales, crops and livestock in 2002 was around $12 billion, $20 billion in 2007, $24 billion in 2010 and $30 billion in 2011. He said we owe a lot of this to folks who made things happen 150 years ago. “We should recognize that we have the genealogy of those folks as well. We are rooted in the folks who made those things happen.”
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