Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reflections on a Lifetime of Farming

Thirteen years ago when My Farmer first brought me home to meet his family I got meet his Dad, his Mom, his sister and Merlin.  While Merlin might not be family by blood, he is definitely a huge part of our family.  He is a close family friend, neighbor, honorary grandpa to our children, one of our landlords, and is one of our seasonal farm hands.  This week Merlin turned 80 years old and we are celebrating his milestone this afternoon.  In honor of his 80th birthday, I sat down with him at his kitchen table, in the same house he grew up in, to reminisce about the last 80 years.

Reflections of a Lifetime of Farming
Merlin, a self proclaimed auctionaholic
His favorite things to look for at auctions are corn sign and cloth corn bags
Born in 1937, Merlin was the third generation of his family to farm the ground that he still lives on today.  His Grandpa bought the home place in 1899.  Growing up in the 1940's, Merlin describes his family's farm to be a typical farm of that era.  They raised a little bit of everything: cattle, pigs, chickens, milked some cows by hand, and they had some sheep while he was in 4-H as a feeder lamb project.  They also raised corn, oats, hay, had some pasture ground, and they even raised hemp during World War II that was used for the fiber to make rope.  His Mom also kept a large garden and the family had a personal orchard with apples and grapes.  The entire family, his Dad, Mom and himself, were involved with daily tasks of the farm.  He especially remembers helping with feeding the cattle and helping with field work during his youth.

Merlin graduated from high school in 1955 and then went to Eagle Grove Community College for one year, followed by one year at Iowa State University, before returning home to farm and get married to Margo in 1957.  (Side note, Merlin and Margo's first date was on New Year's Eve after they graduated high school.  She went to a neighboring school, but he knew her through 4-H.  He asked, she said yes, and the rest is history. 😉)  He farmed with his Dad and gradually worked into the operation by buying equipment when needed.  Merlin raised pigs, chickens and had feeder cattle on the farm, as well as raised corn, oats, hay, had some pasture ground and eventually added soybeans to his operation in the 1960s.  Merlin retired from farming in 2002 after farming full-time for 47 years.  At that time he rented out his farms to My Farmer's family and continues so today.  (But like any farmer, they can't fully get away from it, so Merlin helps us with seasonal field work every year. 😊)

One thing that I have always been impressed with about Merlin is that he went back to finish his Bachelor of Science degree at Iowa State in 1986.  He graduated in 1991 with a double major in Agronomy and Horticulture.  I asked him why he went back to finish his degree and he said he always felt like it was something he should do and finish.

Reflections of a Lifetime of Farming
Merlin helping us this past fall with tillage
There has been a lot that has happened and changed during the last 80 years.  One thing that Merlin kept on coming back to when reminiscing with me was how much the speed of communication and information has increased over time.  He grew up with a rotary dial phone on a party line and remembers when they got their first black and white TV.  He now uses a smart phone that he can call and text his children, grandchildren and great grandchild on who live in three different states, can access the internet on it and can even check in on the latest auction that is going live online (remember, I mentioned he was an auctionaholic - his words, not mine 😉).

Technology and information has changed on the farm too.  Merlin started farming in a cabless M Farmall, and now drives the quad-track tractor (seen in the photo above that he is seen standing in front of) with autosteer, GPS, air conditioning, heated seats, radio, bluetooth and a cab!  Merlin said that his friend and fellow auctionaholic, Leon, and him talk about the changes their fathers saw in agriculture, compared to what they have seen.  Their fathers began farming through all hand labor, to finishing by using tractors with mechanized equipment.  Merlin and Leon have seen the development of tractors and equipment, as well as the progress of crops.  He says that he thinks he has seen as much change and progress as his father did.

Merlin believes that the progress of corn and the development of hybrid corn was the biggest agricultural advancement during his lifetime.  Before hybridization, farmers saved the biggest ears of corn with the biggest kernels to plant the next year.  They were searching for the best strains, but in an unscientific way.  With the development of hybrid corn, plant breeders were working to crossbreed specific corn plants to create a higher quality plant.  Merlin said that open pollinated corn had a poor stand (weak stalk) and had a low yield.  But with hybrid corn, farmers immediately saw an increase in yield, as well as the corn plant was stronger, which allowed their mechanical pickers to harvest the corn easier and better.  Hybrid corn increased production and decreased labor needs.  When Merlin was born, less than one half of one percent of the United States land planted in corn was planted in hybrid seed.  By the time he was a teenager, that number had risen to over 50%.  Now virtually all corn planted in the United States is hybrid corn.

So what advice does Merlin have for My Farmer and I and other farmers?
  • Pay attention to new things coming down the pipeline.  There have been a lot of changes in his lifetime, but there are lots of new things coming yet.
  • Time goes faster than you think it does.
  • Get involved in your community.  You will get a lot out of doing something beyond yourself and will meet good people no matter where or what your community is.  Community is bigger than it used to be due to transportation and communication.  So find your community and get involved.
Thank you Merlin for letting me sit down and interview you for your 80th birthday.  I feel honored to have this opportunity and privileged to have you as a good friend and part of our family.  Here's to a great day today celebrating and to many more Cyclone wins, auction finds, and memories made with our family!  Be sure to Comment for a Cause and wish Merlin a Happy 80th Birthday!

20 comments:

  1. What a great interview and what an amazing man. Thank you for introducing us to him. I love his advice and know that he has set a wonderful example for many in his 80 years. Happy Birthday, Merlin!!!!!

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    1. Thanks Beth Ann! He is an amazing man.

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  2. Such a fun interview! Merlin was born in the same year as my Papaw so reading this was almost like talking to my Papaw! Happy birthday, Merlin!

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    1. I love to hear that! Thanks Bailey!

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  3. It was fun to read about Merlin. Happy 80th!

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  4. Thanks for such a nice interview with Merlin - been a friend of our family for many years. Nancy (Honold) Teigen

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    1. I enjoyed it and I think he did too. :)

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  5. Love the subject and the person!!

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    1. Thanks! He's a great guy and it is amazing to think how much agriculture has changed in 80 years.

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  6. Fun to read! I know Merlin from his visits to Ames to see his son. Nice to learn more! ☺

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    1. Thanks! He's has many more stories that I might have to tell in a future post ;)

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  7. Happy birthday, Merlin! How cool that he went back to school and double majored even. He sounds like a gem!

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    1. He is a great guy. And I know - going back to school was quite the accomplishment. First, not many people his age have college educations, especially farmers. Which he obviously loves to learn and that is why he partly went back too. Now most farmers have a college degree. Both My Farmer and I have Bachelor of Science degrees in Agriculture.

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  8. Thanks for sharing Merlin's interview! We enjoyed visiting with him when we lived in Latimer. He is a great CAL supporter! Have a great birthday, Merlin!

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    1. Thank you. He is a great community supporter!

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  9. I've known Merlin my entire life (We used to be neighbors) and the thing that stands out to me is that he is always positive and always has a smile on his face! Happy Birthday Merlin, I hope you have a fantastic day!

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    1. Yes - very positive and very caring too!

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  10. Nice interview and great story.

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