John Block Reports: Farming Today

By Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, John R. Block.

I have not been here at the farm in Illinois since last September when we started harvest.  The global pandemic has shut a lot of us in, but I have my vaccine shots now and I feel a lot safer.  My family members and farm team here in Knox County, Illinois are almost all vaccinated.

The weather has warmed up some, and our corn planter is rolling.  We have more than 800 acres in the ground – almost one half of our corn acres.  We still have 2000 acres of soybeans to plant.  As I watch our 24-row corn planter march across the field, I can’t help but think about when I was in grade school.  My father planted about 100 acres of corn with our 2-row corn planter.  It was pulled through the field by our 2 horses – Burt and Bill.  Back and forth – so slow. 

Our 24-row planter today is moving at 10 miles per hour.  With modern machinery, precision planting, genetically engineered seed, our yields are at least 3 times what they were.  We had to hire high school kids to help hoe the weeds out of our fields.  We could not have ever managed to farm 4000 acres in the old days.  Nothing is the same.

In the old days we were more diversified.  We had laying hens.  They were my job.  Feed the chickens and gather the eggs.  Milk the cows morning and night – by hand.  We didn’t have any milking machine.  We would raise about 200 or 300 pigs.  Not only did we feed them ground feed, we also slopped the ones getting close to market.  I was in our hog barns this morning looking at the new litters.

We have baby pigs born every day.  We market about 6000 market hogs per year compared to the 200 when I was a boy.  Today the processors want heavier market hogs.  They want 280 pounders.

When we had cattle years ago, we had to harvest hay to feed them.  Before we got a hay bailer, we harvested loose hay.  That was a lot more work.  We don’t have hay fields to harvest today since we don’t have any cows.

Grain and livestock prices are excitingly high now.  Let’s finish planting.  The weather will dictate.  Our crop will be in God’s hands till harvest.

John Block served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. John hosts a weekly radio show going back more than 20 years. The commentary and opinions shared are a summary of the discussion from the broadcast and not a reflection of the opinions of the firm at large. For more from John Block Reports from Washington visit


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