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Today’s Agriculture

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

I was on the farm in Illinois last week.  After that tough weather that we had to deal with last year – it was beautiful.  The soil is dry.  Not the muck that made harvest almost impossible.  We weren’t able to get all of the anhydrous applied last Fall for this year’s corn crop, but when I was back, the applicators went to work and now we are done.  We will start planting in April, and it is exciting to think about a new crop year.

In a little over a week it will be Ag Week beginning March 23rd.  When I step back and compare today’s farming to the industry when I grew up, the change is more than I could have imagined in that day.  We had 2 old horses, their names were Burt and Bill.  They pulled our 2-row corn planter.  Our planter today is 32 rows wide.  We plant 4000 acres – not the 120 we planted back in the day.  We didn’t have any weed killer then.  We had to fight the weeds with a cultivator and high school kids with hoes.  It’s too much to explain, but we cultivated our corn cross ways as well as with the rows.  We used a check wire across the field to make all of that possible.

For 2 or 3 years my dad picked corn by hand.  Then we got a picker that picked off the ears which we stored in the ear corn crib.  Later the sheller would come to the farm and shell the corn leaving a big pile of corn cobs.  Those corn cobs were used to help start the coal furnace in our house.  The same cobs were used to start the furnace in the one room grade school where I went for 8 years.

Our hog production today is much different.  In those early days our baby pigs were farrowed in a small hog house.  We didn’t breed sows for babies in January – too cold.  Barns are heated today, and we use farrowing crates.  The crates help protect the babies from being laid on by their mothers.  Looking back to the 1970’s, we were still having baby pigs born in the field – in the woods.  Not today – Everything is inside. 

We must be proud of our ag industry today with innovation, precision farming, volume and efficiency.  As we look ahead to a new year, we can celebrate a great industry.

John Block was 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. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to


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