Old Newspaper Articles from Capper’s Farmer May 1929: Sustainable Farming, Success of an Apple Orchard, and a John Deere Tractor Advertisement

Take a look at agriculture news stories from the May 1929 issue of Capper’s Farmer.

Johnstone farm house

An image from the May 1929 issue of Capper's Farmer, showing the Johnstone farm home.

Photo courtesy Capper's Farmer archives

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A System That Builds Yields

By M.N. Beeler

The Johnstone farms originally had been fertile. But a generation or so ago, folks weren’t concerned with soil maintenance. Several years of tenant farming had reduced crop yields below the possibility of profit. So fertility was the first problem G.C. Johnstone had when he took over the two places just after he graduated from college 19 years ago. He knew how to meet it. Corn and oats made 30 bushels an acre on one of the places. Today, that same place is making upwards of 75 bushels of each crop.

Without those increases, the farms could not be operated at a profit under present conditions. It is unlikely that they paid any return 20 years ago. Mr. Johnstone knew that good yields are the foundation of any profitable system of farming. He adopted practices which ensure better yields. He is following the Illinois system of permanent fertility. It is designed to build and maintain fertility. It involves a rotation containing legumes, the application of limestone, manure and other fertilizers where conditions require. The farm organization and management program that goes with that system involves a maximum livestock project. The combination wins. It hasn’t failed wherever it has been practiced faithfully in Illinois or elsewhere. Mr. Johnstone included hogs, Shorthorns and draft horses in his livestock project. They gave a market for his grains and for the legume pasture which were so essential to fertility development. They provided manure.

“When I took charge of the farms, they had been rented for several years,” said Mr. Johnstone. “Corn, oats and some clover were the principal crops. No effort had been made to follow a definite rotation. I established one within three or four years, and have held to it ever since, even during the war.”

The rotation consisted of corn, oats and legume pasture. Lime, manure and phosphates have been applied where  needed. In connection with the rotation, Mr. Johnstone has maintained a livestock project, including beef cattle, hogs and draft horses. Two types of soil are found on the two farms, a black clay loam and a brown silt loam. The brown silt was the poorer and evidently had a lower fertility originally than the black. Greatest effort was expended on the brown, therefore, to bring crop yields up to the level of those on the black.

“The home place hadn’t been abused so extensively,” Mr. Johnstone explained. “Corn yields averaged about 40 bushels an acre, but that was too low. The other farm had been rented longer, and I believe it produced about 27 or 28 bushels of corn the last year it was rented. Oats made 30 bushels. In 1927, corn made 72 bushels, and the Iowa oats we harvested this year made 74. Corn on the home place made 74 bushels, and one 14-acre field made 93. That farm has been in the family since it was entered from the government at $1.25 an acre. It originally was fertile, but now it is making better yields and producing more than it did when it was virgin soil.”

The system of manuring and legume production has built up the nitrogen content to such an extent that now it is possible to increase the cash crops. On the home place, the rotation is being changed to include more high-profit crops, two years of corn, one year of soybeans, one year of wheat, followed by sweet clover plowed under the second fall. But Mr. Johnstone explains that he hasn’t lost the four-year rotation. He can go back to it without difficulty any time the need seems to warrant.

Pasture has been assured through the seeding of a mixture. This consists of 4 pounds of sweet clover, 3 of red clover, 2 of alsike clover, 5 of timothy. This mixture, Mr. Johnstone observed, has ensured a stand of something on all of the land. In wet places, the alsike and timothy grow, and on the sweet soil, sweet clover and red clover stand. The mixture gives a variety and a longer pasture season than any one of the pasture crops alone would give. The sweet clover becomes available first in spring, and the timothy stands three to four weeks longer in fall than the sweet clover.

“I’ve been around four times with my rotation and never have missed a pasture yet,” said Mr. Johnstone. “Sometimes one of the combinations has been shy, and sometimes another, but I never have been without pasture. We seed the mixture in small grain. It gives some pasture in the fall, following the small grain. Then the next year, it gives a full season. That fall, we plow it down and plant corn again the following spring.”

Three years ago, Mr. Johnstone moved from the home place to the other farm. Farm accounts indicated that he had been growing too much oats, so that crop was eliminated from the home place, and wheat was put in its place. Likewise, the legume pasture crop was discontinued. On the other farm, he changed the rotation by dropping one year of corn. Thus, he has a comparatively short rotation of corn, oats and pasture mixture. This, likewise, will enable him to slip back into the original four-year rotation whenever such change seems expedient.

He has established a hog rotation on the place. This consists of the same crops, but the harvesting is done by the hogs. Of the five lots, three (or 30 acres) are in corn, and two in the pasture mixture. Mr. Johnstone follows the McLean County system of swine sanitation. He was the first man to try this method, and he has practiced it since. The United States Department of Agriculture sent specialists into the county because hog production had become unprofitable. These representatives, in cooperation with other agencies, worked out the sanitation program. Mr. Johnstone and a number of other farmers agreed to make a test of the plan to determine its effectiveness and practicability. He put the system into effect with his fall litters, and the rest of the co-operators started in the spring.

Four years ago, Mr. Johnstone joined the farm-management organization project that was proposed for Woodford, McLean, Livingston and Tazewell counties. The University of Illinois, the farm bureaus, and individual farmers in the four counties cooperated in carrying on the project for three years. Originally, there were 240 farms in the project. Last fall, when the records of this project were compiled, Mr. Johnstone was among the 10 men who made the highest crop yields over the three-year period. Mr. Johnstone stated that his records in crop yields were due to a combination of factors, a productive soil, thorough preparation of the seedbed, the best seed available, and the practice of cultivating the soil as much as possible before planting.


Orchard Register Sells Fruit

By J.B. Bertram

Folks who buy fruit at Sunnyside Farm sign an orchard register. That opens the way for acquaintance between A.F. Baker, Douglas County, Kansas, and his customers. It’s unusual, you know, and anything unusual breaks down the ordinary formalities between buyer and seller. Buyers like the friendliness of the place, and before they have been there very long, they feel as if they’ve known the Bakers for years.

That feeling is a distinct asset to anybody who has something to sell. The orchard register was Mrs. Baker’s idea, and she is the public relations department of the partnership. That register is a source of future business. The Bakers know that folks are likely to forget from one fruit season to the next. So they have adopted an effective follow-up. The orchard register is used as a mailing list. Folks who buy apples in the fall receive a postcard reminder in spring that Sunnyside Farm has cherries for sale. Then, in fall or late summer, the list is circularized again on the varieties of apples, with information on the probable maturity date.

Does it work? The Bakers have been raising fruit for 21 years, and they sell practically all their production at home and in surrounding small towns. There are now more than 400 names on the orchard register. Most of the folks live within 50 miles of the farm. Also, most of them respond to the postcard announcements. Many of those customers come to the orchard year after year.

“We like the home trade,” said Mr. Baker. “It saves us delivery expense, and there are no boxes, baskets or barrels to buy. In 1927, we had a 7,500-bushel crop of apples, and sold 5,000 bushels at home and in adjoining towns. The home trade also brings us a market for the lower grades of apples. These are made into cider. We use only sound apples, and the folks who visit the orchard wouldn’t buy our cider if it were of any other kind. A bushel of undersized apples makes three gallons of cider, which sells for 35 cents a gallon. That gives us a good price for apples that would be marketable otherwise only at prices which would hardly pay for handling.

“Another advantage to the home trade is that we do not come into competition with other producing sections. Any public market is subject to gluts, price cutting, and the depressing influence of low-quality fruit. Our section is not so well-adapted to fruit production as some others. We would have to compete with them if we put our crop on the big markets. By developing the home trade, we avoid that competition, we have a more stable price, and we can sell our fruit at prices that are attractive to our customers as compared with what they’d have to pay if the fruit were shipped in. Likewise, the home market takes our cherries. As a rule, they are taken by apple customers who respond to the cards mailed to those names on the register.”

The mailing list is kept alive by eliminating, after a season or two, the names of persons who do not return. The list is not the only means of merchandising, however. Seasonal ads in country papers of adjoining counties keeps customers informed of what Sunnyside Farm has to offer. The Bakers also exhibit their fruits at local community fairs in three counties. The premiums are not large enough to pay expenses, but the winnings are good advertising and help keep the customers coming.

For the last 12 years, Mr. Baker has made weekly trips to small towns during the harvest season. Two corners are reserved for his truck in one town. His record sales at one of these stands one Saturday were 36 bushels of apples and 48 gallons of cider in 3-1/2 hours. Two persons were kept busy waiting on the trade that day. Customers have come to depend upon the Baker truck, and if it doesn’t show up on time, they wait until it does.

The Baker farm originally consisted of 33 acres, and 58 acres were added four years ago. A new 30-acre orchard will come into bearing soon, and five additional acres will be planted this spring.

“We need about 60 acres of bearing trees,” said Mrs. Baker. “We cannot get along on the acreage that would take care of our trade in a good crop year. It is necessary to have sufficient acreage that a good crop year will tide us over two to four bad seasons. The larger acreage will give us sufficient income when the crop is good, so we can take proper care of our orchard when failures occur. An orchard never should be neglected. Too many owners discontinue spraying when fruit fails to set. A certain amount of spraying is required to protect the next crop. Then we must live in the lean crop years. So you see the necessity for building a surplus of cash when we can.”

The Baker farmstead recently has been landscaped. The lane leads in from the highway, and makes a loop at the packing/sales shed, around a planting of shrubbery and trees, bordered with flowering plants.

Mrs. Baker stays at the shed, meets customers, tends the register, and supervises selling. The register helps to trace ownership in case a mistake is made or somebody forgets a basket of his apples.

The Bakers have a cherry orchard of 500 trees. That gives them an early summer income. The apple varieties have been selected to provide as long a selling season as possible. Then they maintain a flock of 300 White Rocks. That gives them an income when there is no fruit to sell. The eggs are shipped to a man in Kansas City, who maintains an egg route. This arrangement gives the Bakers the top Kansas City price.