Monday, November 13, 2006

More 1930's vs now

Iowa State's GIS website now has some images from 1930's Decatur Co, where my parents' farm is located at. Here's a 1930's image of a farm they own, and the 2005 image:

1930's aerial photo

2005 aerial photo

As I've asked before - what's missing in the 1930's image that is present in 2005? Trees!!! In addition, the concept and use of waterways, contour planting, and terraces. All things that were foreign in the 1930's.

Grampa and Dad started renting this land in 1952 (their house was the farmstead in the extreme upper left corner across the road). Then, the area in the south-east part of the farm, now occupied by trees, was open, and they pastured cows on it. It steadily grew up into white oak and hickory, with some walnuts in the lower areas.

In fact, that SE 40 acres is no longer part of the farm - Dad recently sold it to a person wanting recreation land, i.e. deer and turkey hunting. Dad sold it for 3.5 times what he bought it for from the original owners in 1992.

While the original farmstead is no longer there (we pushed the house in when a cow fell through the floorboards into the cellar), the soil is better protected today than when it was farmed "organically" in the 1930's. More wildlife exists today than in the 1930's - whitetail deer, pheasants, quail, rabbits, hawks - even while using those "evil" pesticides that are supposed to be polluting our drinking water.

In fact, pesticides such as glyphosate (Roundup) allow us to directly plant into the soil, not requiring any tillage that would cause erosion. Furthermore, GMO seed like Roundup Ready corn and soybeans means we can have high yielding crops without tillage, something our 1930's counterparts didn't have.

I'm looking forward to seeing Wayne County on this website soon. It might help me confirm while I'm seeing poor yields in certain parts of my rented farms where I suspect Mr 1930's Farmer plowed up and down the hill, losing the topsoil into the ditch.


Blogger Dr. S. Banerji said...

Tillage has a number of agronomic advantages. Direct sowing is only a short-term compromise when one is in a hurry for quick returns from the soil.

11:38 PM, November 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what happened to the cow that fell through the floor? How did you get her out? I hope she didn't break a leg or die from her traumatic experience. I would hate to think that your lack of attention to the rotting floor boards could cause bovine suffering or death - that would be as bad as animal cruelty. And we all know how you feel about animal cruelty...

5:57 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger bgunzy said...

Yes, we got the cow out - she was fine, but a little shaken up. We knew she was OK because the herd was checked on daily.

Although the bovine traumatic counselling followup was pretty expensive...ever try getting a cow to lay on her back on a couch? :)

Doc - I agree that tillage is useful in some places. However, I cannot agree that no-tilling (direct seeding) is a short term get-rich-quick method.

For example, moldboard plowing is the choice of tillage in S Minnesota these days. That's acceptable because A) they have less erosive soils and B) their soils are cold and wet in the spring, needing tillage to dry and warm it out. We don't have these issues in The South of Iowa, so tillage is less of a need.

6:59 AM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

I use that website almost every day to help do research for land surveys and soil analyses for septic systems. It truly kicks a$$. Before the Iowa/ISU game this fall, I printed out a 24x36 blowup of the aerial photo of Coralville. We put in on the side of our tailgating bus with a big red circle and "YOU ARE HERE" written on it showing our parking spot.

12:16 PM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great photos!

You make a good non-organic argument, although you leave out the dangers of GMO seed.

I suspect that wretched tillage practices in the '30s and before were the big culprit, not tillage per se. And you say as much about Mr 1930's Farmer plowing up and down hill.

The water is screwed up from pesticides. I remember hearing official advice in the 1970s that no one should eat fish from Iowa streams. From what I hear it's only gotten worse.

And the wildlife is likely back because it has cover, as the photos show. Not too many years ago bald eagles were an endangered species because of DDT, not organic farming.

All in all, though, it's a great post.

4:26 AM, November 15, 2006  
Blogger bgunzy said...

I used 100% GMO soybean seed and 60% GMO corn seed this year. This enabled me to use safer pesticides like glyphosate, and no insecticides (built into the plant). We use far less atrazine on corn acres than we did in the 1970's - some areas atrazine is banned from certain distances to waterways, wells, etc.

No one has gotten sick from eating GMO foods, while plenty have gotten sick and died from insecticides.

Dad used to use Furadan in the 1970's, which was the culprit for killing bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay at that time. Today you can't hardly buy the stuff, except in a liquid form that goes down in the furrow - cannot be spread on top in grannules that the eagles would pick up and eat.

I believe we are much better stewards of the land than we used to be. We are conserving more soil, reducing runoff, and protecting the environment, all while producing more. If we went back to organic practices, we'd loose a lot more topsoil and not be able to produce as much.

That's the view from here.

7:32 AM, November 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the reason why there aren't many trees is the 30s picture is in the winter. If you look, they are there.

1:13 PM, January 31, 2009  

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