By Jarred Thimm
Southeast Community College
The Homestead National Monument is just a few miles west of Beatrice off Highway 4 and it is something most of us around here take for granted. I have walked the paths of the Homestead National Monument and stood up on the hill looking over the land settled by Daniel Freeman. But, it wasn’t until I planted fields of corn myself that I could really imagine the challenges he faced taming the land with its dense grass cover. I will compare planting corn as the early homesteaders did with corn planting today and challenges of both. I will describe the equipment used to prepare the soil for planting, planting itself as well as the challenges of producing corn then and now.
Today, most farmers I am familiar with practice no-till which means the soil is not disturbed before planting. I know from my personal experience that no-till farming benefits the soil because it leaves residue on the soil surface and prevents erosion. Most farmers today I am familiar with spray herbicides, which are chemicals, to control weeds.
There is a big difference in how the soil was prepared by the homesteaders which involved grueling hours and days spent behind a plow to carefully calculating chemical rates to control weeds today. There is also a big difference in how corn is planted.
Today, farmers do not plant corn from last year’s crop. Instead I have the choice to plant conventional seed, seed that has not been genetically modified, or seed which has been modified to resist certain insects or herbicides. Farmers, such as myself, also use larger equipment to increase efficiency.
Advancements in corn planting have been made in the last 150 years. One thing that both, homesteaders of the past and farmers of today, have in common is the challenge of working with nature.
Producing corn has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge often because of things outside of farmers’ control. Weather…too much rain…too little rain. The price a farmer receives for the crop doesn’t always cover the cost of production. Weather and other natural disasters were factors for early homesteaders. Homesteaders contended with dust storms, hail storms” and the list goes on as described in Homestead National Monument of America 2000 publication by Houk. Farmers today are not only affected by natural disasters but are also influenced by global conditions. Last summer I noticed drop in corn prices which was a direct result of decrease in oil prices which brought down the demand for corn in ethanol plants.
Comparing the practice of corn planting by homesteaders of the 19th century and farmers of the 21st century has been an interesting journey. Farmers have made advancements to make production more efficient but still face many challenges.
Homestead. (n.d.). Homestead National Monument of America. National Park Service.
Homesteading in the 19th Century. (n.d.). Homestead National Monument of America. National Park Service.
Houk, R. (2000). Homestead National Monument of America. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.
Nicoll, B. (Eds). (1967). Nebraska a pictorial history. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Plowing and planting. (Last updated 2008, November 28). Video demonstration. Homestead National Monument of America. Retrieved April 28,2009, from http://home.nps.gov/home/photosmultimedia/video-demonstrations.htm