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Woodworking column: Farmers have good reason to whine

I've already written about my father's favorite farmer stories, about the three dogs who met in Whitehall every Wednesday. At noon they got hungry. One dog, just out of Waupun State Prison suggested that they steal a steak from Carl Schaefer's Butcher Shop. The farm dog said, "Nah, let's do what my master does about farm prices. He WHINES a lot."

And the more I read about farming, I must admit farmers have good reason to whine.

Recently, I've heard a lot of whining about the price of corn dropping.

That's nothing new. I've looked over my great-granddad's account books from 150 years ago and he suffered from dropping wheat prices. In 1869, back from the Civil War, he raised 20 acres of wheat and harvested 430 bushels which he sold for 66 cents per bushel. In the years that followed farmers were paid as much as $1 per bushel and farmers back home broke more ground, planted more wheat.

By 1878 he reported that he had raised 1,000 bushels of wheat on 50 acres for which he was paid just 50 cents a bushel! New developments in transportation (railroads) and agricultural technology, plus cheap land had conspired to do in the average farmer. Lots of farmers moved to the newly opened West where land was cheap and plentiful.

Nevertheless ag historian Merrill Jarchow reported that by 1880, the average cost of raising an acre of wheat had risen to 68 cents per bushel. Thus Great Grandad probably lost $180. Farmers out in the Dakotas even lost more because their farms were bigger.

So Great Grandad moved to town and became a baled hay merchant, shipping his neighbors' surplus hay to the Chicago Street Cars system.

But that's another story. Let's make a quick segue to the present.

The other day, my wife was reading a magazine article when she looked up and said "What's a typical acre yield of field corn?"

I shuddered to wonder if she'd developed an urge to become a farmer's wife.

"Oh, I'm not sure. Back in the 1940s my dad turned cartwheels when his bottomland yielded 100 bushels per acre. But now I'm sure it's more because these days the stalks are so dense you can't walk through a cornfield."

My beautiful wife continued.

"Could someone possibly raise 542 bushels on an acre?"

"Where'd you come up with that fantasy, oh Love of My Life?"

"It says so right here in this magazine story. David Hula, a farmer from Charles City, Virginia, broke his 2015 record of 532 bushels per acre."

"Must be a misprint," said I.

And she continued:

"Getting big corn yields never gets old for Jeff Laskowski of Plover and neither does winning awards for doing it. The Portage County farmer turned in Wisconsin's top corn yield of 317.65. bushels per acre under irrigation in the 2017 National Corn Growers Association yield competition."

Ever the Doubting Thomas, I turned to a retired UWRF ag prof, my go-to guy when it comes to farming. He said in all likelihood the Virginia farmer's success was true and the same goes for the Plover farmer.

It's the 12th time Laskowski won the competition. He also won in 2012, a drought year with his highest yield, 327 bushels per acre. This year's second place was his wife Barb Laskowski.

"Oh, yeah, she works here too," said Laskowski.

(But who didn't say how much money his overproduction lost him on his record yield.)

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.