history

Changes to agriculture are dramatic

Changes in agriculture in northeastern Ohio in the past 65 to 70 years have been dramatic. I have lived long enough to experience those changes.

I grew up in northern Trumbull County in the 1930s and 40s and did some work in Ashtabula County in the late 1940s before going on to Ohio State. In the 1940s and 50s, if you traveled up and down the roads in northeast Ohio, you would see dairy farm after dairy farm. They were small by today’s standards. Most farms were 100 to 200 acres in size. Fields were small with fences and fence rows.

Cropping systems to support those dairy cows were corn, some oats and wheat, hay and pasture. Corn was a major ingredient in feed for the cattle, along with some oats and a protein supplement. Oats and wheat were also important for the straw used for livestock bedding. Since hay was an important food for livestock, a lot of attention was paid to getting good hay crops established and making hay at the right time. Major hay crops were clover, timothy and some birdsfoot trefoil.  Birdsfoot wasn’t very popular because it took more than one year to get established, bit it was a good legume crop.

Hybrid corn was just beginning to be used, and those who planted it first found it to be an improvement over the old, open pollinated varieties. As often happens with new technology, rumors spread that hybrid seed would grow stunted stalks and poor ears of corn. Time proved those rumors to be wrong. Mechanical corn pickers were used on some farms to pick the ears, but some was still being harvested by hand picking. Silage varieties of corn were grown because corn silage was another important feed for livestock. Silage corn was tall with big stalks and leaves and ears usually not quite mature when put in the silo.

Combines were getting popular to harvest the oats and wheat. A few farms still cut, shocked and threshed grain in threshing rings with other farmers. Some farmers were skeptical of combines in this area because they thought the grain would not stand long enough to mature.

Some hay was still being harvested as long hay.  It was cut, allowed to cure a day or two, then raked into rows called windrows. Then with hay loaders that were pulled in back of wagons, it was hauled to the barn. Most farms had big hay forks to haul the hay into the barn mow. Hay balers were beginning to be used. They baled the hay into small, square bales that were dropped in the fields. Later, balers had long chutes that carried the bales up onto wagons where an experienced loader took them and stacked them. At the barn, elevators hauled the bales into the hay mow, where more help was needed to stack them.

Clover was the main legume planted along with timothy for meadow or hay crops.  Alfalfa was not planted because it didn’t do well on the wet, acidic soils of this area.  Pastures were mostly permanent fields that were not improved.  They produced an early spring flush of growth but not much when it got hot and dry, later in the year.  Improved pastures were found on some farms.  Soybeans were nearly unheard of in this area.  What few that were grown were cut for roughage to feed livestock.

Going back we find a very different picture of local agriculture than we have today.  Next time, we will take a look at how grain and dairy farming have changed in the last 65 to 70 years.

Submitted by John Parker, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University and an independent agricultural writer.