Founded in 1920, Two Rivers Cooperative has seen agricultural production advance by leaps and bounds. But it’s hard to tell how far an industry has come until you know where it started.
Combing through the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) for Marion County farm reports from 1925 compared to the 2017 Census of Agriculture report shows just how different things were down on the farm.
When Two Rivers Cooperative was formed, just six years after the Clayton Act was passed in the U.S. Legislature, exempting farmer organizations from the constraints of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, farming was an animal-powered endeavor.
In fact, some 25% of the acres farmed were dedicated to feed and fodder for the horses and livestock on the farm.
Take corn, for example – since no soybeans were grown in Marion County in 1924.
Total corn acres planted in 1924 were 98,000 acres with 77,000 harvested for grain totaling 2.4 million bushels. On the remaining corn ground, farmers grew 2,700 acres of silage, 6,700 acres of corn for fodder and 8,000 acres of corn ground was “hogged off,” meaning it was used to feed hogs and pigs.
By comparison, the 2017 Census of Agriculture shows Marion County Corn Growers planting 76,000 acres of corn for a harvest of 13 million bushels.
The 74,000 acres of ground that is today devoted to the cultivation of soybeans was, in 1924, primarily used to grow hay – 37,000 acres of wild and tame grasses. Miscellaneous crops including 51,000 bushels of white potatoes were grown on 455 acres along with much smaller numbers of acres dedicated to sweet potatoes, strawberries, watermelon, muskmelon, onions, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Fruit trees numbered 36,000 apple trees with 33,000 bushels harvested; 16,000 peach, pear and plum trees, as well as 12,000 grape vines.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, farming was a tough economy. Farms in Marion County numbered 2,300, already down from the 1910 census showing 2,700.
During that time, farming also switched from an animal-oriented endeavor to mechanized, the first light-use tractor with implements began to change the way farms were managed. Time tells the tale with a total of 1.4 million horses in the state of Iowa in 1910, 1.1 million in 1925 and 200,000 today.
Without the need for real horse power, farmers could expand acres to cash crops and devote their time and resources to providing grain crops for the consumers of the world rather than just their own family and community.
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