Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Iowa Corn Gospel Trains Seed Corn Specials


By P. G. Holden

Distributing literature to farmers leaving Iowa Corn Gospel Train
(In eight days the "seed-corn special" trains covered 1,321 miles and passed through 37 of the 99 counties of Iowa. One hundred and fifty talks were given to 17,600 people, directly representing 1,500,000 acres of corn, or an average annual yield of 55,000,000 bushels, worth $18,000,000, and the press carried the information to every farmer and landowner in the State.)

The employment, last spring, of special corn trains, known generally as the "seed-corn specials," for the purpose of warning the farm­ers of Iowa against the dangers of poor seed corn, was the natural outgrowth of the pecul­iar conditions which existed in that State. By April 10, 1904, twelve hundred samples of seed corn had been received from farmers in dif­ferent portions of the State by the Iowa Agri­cultural College and tested to determine their value for seed purposes. These tests showed that an average of 18 percent was dead, and that an additional 19 percent was low in vitality and unfit to plant, leaving only 63 percent of good seed. It was also apparent that even those kernels which gave a fair germination were weakened, and, in the event of a cold spring, such as actually followed, would either refuse to grow or give weak plants. Farmers who had given more than ordinary attention to their seed corn were becoming worried, and many letters, telephone messages, and telegrams were received daily, asking for advice. Yet the great majority were entirely ignorant of the serious condi­tion of their seed corn and the consequent disas­ters ahead for them and for the entire State.

No person unfamiliar with the agriculture of the corn belt can appreciate the serious conse­quences of a poor corn crop in Iowa. Iowa without a corn crop would be like Connecticut without a factory. The corn crop of Iowa ex­ceeds in value all other crops combined by four­teen million dollars. It is the crop that domi­nates all the industries of the State. It is the concern of the railroad, the banker, the merchant, the traveling man, and the la­borer.

When one farmer meets another, he does not say "It is a fine day." He says, "It is a good corn day;" or, "This is not good corn weather."

Start of the Iowa Corn Gospel Train
Realizing the situation, Supt. W. H. Given, of the Rock Island road, after con­sulting with Mr. Henry Wallace, editor of Wallace's Farmer; Mr. George A. Wells, secretary of the Iowa Grain Dealers' Association, and others, determined to run a special train for the purpose of giving instruc­tion in the selecting, test­ing, and planting of seed corn.

Handbills were placed in every station, and the agents were instructed to notify the farmers of the seed-corn special" and to urge them to attend the meetings at the stations on schedule time.

Secretary George A. Wells sent letters to the grain deal­ers along the line, asking them to notify their patrons personally or by phone of the purpose of the meetings, and the local papers were especially effective in spreading the news. Thus, the "seed-corn special" became the center of in­terest and conversation along the Rock Island line for days before it left Des Moines.

A three days' schedule of fifty stops, covering four hundred miles, through fifteen counties in the northwestern part of the State, had been pre­pared. Time was allowed for a twenty-minute talk at each station, and two evening meetings were held in opera-houses. In all cases, the farmers were first to be admitted to the cars; all others were welcome as long as there was room.

The train, consisting of a baggage car, two private cars, and a large audience coach, left Des Moines at 7 A.M., on April 18, carrying the railroad officials, representatives of the daily and the agricultural press, and two members of the It agricultural staff of the Iowa State College.

Farmers listening to lecture on
Seed Corn Special
The train arrived at Gowrie on schedule time, 9: 30 A.M., where the first talk of the day was to be given. The following from the Daily Capitol describes the reception of the special train, and might be repeated with slight variations for all other stops:

The success of the experiment was assured at the first stop, Gowrie, when the farmers enthusiastically applauded the approach of the train. At this point, fully five hundred farmers had gathered for the pur­pose of receiving instruction. The number of the audience and the interest manifested was wholly unexpected by the officers in charge, and constituted a great inspi­ration to the lecturers. The audiences were universally composed of men who had the importance of the sub­ject at heart.

The signal success of the Rock Island excursion led the Burlington management to follow with a four days' trip. This tour covered eight hundred and fifty six miles, through the twenty-one counties which constitute the two southern tiers of the State and comprise one of the most famous corn regions in the world.

The news of the earlier excursions had awak­ened great interest in this part of the State, and large crowds greeted the "special." Two au­dience coaches were provided, two lectures of thirty minutes were given at each stop, and it was usually necessary to open the car-windows to allow those on the outside to hear the lec­tures, although they could not see the illustrative material within.

The remarkable success of the corn trains was due to the large number of people it was possi­ble to address in a single day. The agriculture of Iowa is in a developing, or formative, stage as yet, and practices are not crystallized. The farmers are largely recent comers from older States, where they had sold their high-priced land and bought the lower-priced land of Iowa. Awake to the fact that the new conditions call for new methods, they are alert to every new idea that will increase the effectiveness of their labor. Every member of the audience was at­tentive and loyal to the speaker, intent only on finding some new methods that he could put into practice.

A unique feature of one audience was a bot­any class of thirty-two from the village high school. These young people took careful notes, and went back to school to prepare a lesson on seed-corn selection.

Many teachers attended the lectures, and one of the far-reaching results was that they had their pupils bring corn from home for testing, and had them prepare the tests and carry the results home to the parents, thus giving a prac­tical "nature lesson" that applied directly and vitally to the interest closest to their daily lives. Unfortunately, no good photographs of the illustrative material were secured. There were charts showing the stand of corn in one thou­sand fields of Iowa for 1903, bringing out the fact that the average stand in the State was only 66 percent of a perfect stand, and in some cases it fell as low as 40 per cent. This meant that the State devoted 9,000,000 acres to corn and produced only a 6,000,000 acre crop; or, to put it the other way, with a perfect stand, the present average yield of 33 bushels would be increased to 50 bushels per acre, an increase of 153,000,000 bushels. This does not take into consideration the increased yield possible through the use of improved varieties, better-bred seed, elimination of barren stalks by means of breed­ing, better methods of cultivation, and so forth.

Farmers gathered outside of Iowa Corn Gospel Train
There were charts showing the germination tests of over twelve hundred samples of seed corn received from all parts of the State, charts showing the wide variation in yield of the differ­ent varieties of corn grown side by side under exactly the same conditions, indicating that many farmers are growing varieties which do not give them the best returns for their labor. There were charts showing dangers of importing seed corn from a distance, large photographs illustrating good and bad forms of ears and ker­nels, and many specimens of corn showing de­sirable and undesirable types.

The points emphasized in the lectures were:

1.    The low average of 33 bushels per acre over the State, when many farmers were produ­cing an average of 60 to 70 bushels per acre.
2.    The poor stand, due to poor seed, uneven dropping of seed by planter, and poor prepara­tion of the seed-bed.
3. Planting unsuitable varieties, and also corn which has deteriorated under unfavorable con­ditions.
4. What the farmer himself can do toward improving his corn by selection and breeding.
5. The importance of testing and grading his seed early in the season, for when the rush of spring work is upon him it will be neglected.

It is safe to say that of every one hundred ears of corn planted in Iowa, from twenty to thirty will not grow, or will show very low vital­ity; and if they grow at all, will produce weak plants which will only rob better plants of light, moisture, and nourishment, and produce little or nothing of value. These ears should be rejected, and only those that show strong vitality should be planted.

The following is given to illustrate one of the many object-lessons placed before the audiences to show how every farmer may in a practical and inexpensive way increase his yield of corn:

Lay out the ears to be tested side by side on the floor, remove one kernel from near the butt, middle, and tip of the ear, turn the ear over and remove three kernels in like manner from the opposite side, making six kernels in all, thus securing a sample from the entire ear. Place the six kernels at the end of the ear from which they were taken. Be particular that the kernels do not get mixed with the kernels from the ear lying next to it. Take a shallow box about two by three feet in size, put several inches of moist sand, dirt, or sawdust in the bottom, place over this a cloth which has been ruled off into squares one and one-half inches each way, numbered one, two, three, and so on, as shown in the illustration on this page. Place the kernels from ear No. 1 in square No. 1, from ear No. 2 in square No. 2, and so on with all of the ears. Then place over this a cloth considerably larger than the box, cover with one and one-half to two inches of sand, earth, or sawdust, moisten well, keep in a warm place, and the kernels will germinate in from three to five days. When sufficient time has been allowed for the kernels to germinate, remove the cover carefully, to avoid misplacing the kernels. (A piece of light cheesecloth placed on the kernels before the top covering is put on will prevent the kernels from sticking to the cloth.) Examine the kernels in the first row of the germinating-box. For example, if the kernels in squares Nos. 4, 8, 13, and 20 have failed to grow or show weak germination, ears Nos. 4, 8, 13, and 20 on the floor should be rejected. After examining the kernels from the first twenty ears, examine the second twenty, and so on till all the kernels have been examined and the poor ears rejected. Do not fail to remove the ears showing weak germination. If the ground is cold and the weather unfavorable in the spring, these kernels will rot, or, if they grow at all, will produce weak plants.

The above method is inexpensive, and ger­mination boxes can be prepared for testing any amount of corn desired.

Corn germination box with cover removed
This year the Agricultural College tested seed corn for more than three thousand acres by the above method. Each day, one man germinated, on an average, enough to plant fifty acre's. If every ear of corn planted in Iowa this year had been tested in this manner, it would have result­ed in an increased yield of probably not less than ten bushels per acre, or ninety million bushels.

If the farmer of today is to increase his profits to keep pace with the increased value of his land, he must test every ear of corn and plant only those that will yield seventy, eighty, or ninety bushels to the acre instead of those that yield but twenty or thirty bushels.

The "seed-corn specials" were simply one factor in the great educational campaign for more and better corn waged throughout Iowa for the past two years by corn growers' associa­tions and corn clubs, while corn-judging contests have been held at the Farmers' Institute and at the county and State fairs.

The Iowa Grain Dealers' Association has been a great factor in the movement for better corn. The association has reprinted at its own expense all seed-corn bulletins issued by the Experiment Station and distributed them free, through the local dealers, to its thousands of patrons.

A thousand men from the farms of Iowa come to the Agricultural College an annually to take advantage of the winter short course in corn judging, and go back to their homes to talk for better corn and to grow better corn.

Probably no other method could have so thor­oughly aroused, in so short a time, the people of the whole State to the really serious nature of the corn-seed situation. People everywhere, bankers, merchants, grain dealers, and traveling men, began to talk about corn, and the local papers were full of it each week. There is but one opinion expressed by all classes, viz., that it was a "good thing," and "next year we want the corn specials to come our way."

It is scarcely possible to realize the great benefits to the State from this work. It comes to the from J. R. Sage, director of the Iowa Weather and Crop Service; from Secretary George A. Wells, from the railroad officials, and from scores of grain dealers and extensive farm­ers everywhere, who are in the best possible posi­tion to know, that the corn specials have resulted in a material increase in the corn crop, not only along the lines traversed, but everywhere through­out the State.

It would be manifestly unfair, however, to measure the work .by this year's results alone. The farmer who adopts better methods this year is not only a better farmer himself in the future, but his methods, directly or indirectly, soon be­come the methods of the community, and hence it is that such work cannot be measured today by bushels of corn or by millions of dollars.

American Review of Reviews.  1904.

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