|from the Sunday, March 30, 1930 issue of The Evening Gazette and Republican
|W.R. Boyd Tells How Collins Farms Company Operates 25,000 Acres in Iowa
without Horses or other Livestock.
Invest $25 An Acre In Tile, Apply Lime at a Rate of 3 Tons,
Plow Down Sweet Clover, Treat Seeds
— — —
Use 75 Tractors
|by W. R. Boyd
Since the days of Abraham to the present hour, agriculture has been the major object of concern to all who live in our strange world. Whether conscious of its importance or not, food supply has always been a vital thing to mankind. In the childhood of the race, special gods were supposed to rule over seedtime and harvest and the growing season. Statesmen ever have had agriculture in mind. Famine has been more dreaded than pestilence. Starvation has won more victories than cannon.
It is ever present, ever recurring, this problem of agriculture. Science has done its best to assist nature in her gentler moods, and to thwart her in destructive tendencies-which to us seem ruthless and ill-advised-but which with clearer understanding, may urn out to be beneficent after all.
Land hunger is a well-nigh universal passion. It has led to war. It has caused over-production. It has opened up to cultivation land which ever should have been remained virgin. How best to cultivate the soil, how most efficiently to organize the business of food and livestock production and distribution always has been more or less a problem – never more so than just now, it would seem. Statesmen have pondered over it, politicians have used the general interest in it to capitalize and advance their own selfish interests – generally doing more harm than good; inoculating the farmer with the most debilitating and destructive of all mental diseases – self-pity, then dulling his initiative, robbing him of his independence, and getting him nowhere – except deeper in the slough of despond.
Always and everywhere the land owners and those who worked for them have always constituted the bone and sinew of every nation. From the pure streams which originate in the country the cities are fed. If they were not so fed they would perish.
What wonder then that there should be universal interest among all who have the welfare of humanity at heart in the success of this vast and universal basic industry.
The purpose of this article is to bring to the attention of the readers of The Gazette and Republican an agricultural enterprise of absorbing interest – not only from the standpoint of a well-organized business, but from the human standpoint as well.
A majority of the Gazette and Republican readers have heard of the Collins Farms Company which has it headquarters in Cedar Rapids and of the "new way" this organization "does things", but few know just what are its methods, it purposes and its history up to date.
It is our purpose – if so be it we are able to do so – to tell the story of a comparatively brief series of paragraphs illustrated with some pictures which speak more effectively than words.
THIRTY GROUPS OF FARMS
TOTALING 25,000 ACRES.
The organization which is now known as The Collins Farms Company had it real beginnings a few years ago when M. H. Collins, who perhaps more than any other man was best informed on the real land values in Iowa, bought a few farms near Cedar Rapids. He then employed a group of administrative men that he might demonstrate to his own satisfaction that the methods of modern industry might be employed successfully in the growing of grain in the central west. To demonstrate his plan, he not only brought into play his own extensive knowledge of Iowa farming conditions but also used the experience of his trained associates and the facilities of the Iowa State College of agriculture and mechanic arts.
After three seasons of operation a complete technique had been worked out and the results of the last two years’ carefully planned program were far in excess of Mr. Collins’ expectations. Other tracts were acquired and the working organization was put on a permanent basis under the name of the Collins Farms Company. The property now consists of thirty groups of farms totaling 25,000 acres located in the sections of Iowa where the land is best adapted to extensive cultivation. The Collins Farm company has now entered on a program of further expansion with the purpose of producing grain at a low cost.
Iowa has long enjoyed the reputation of being on of the most fertile sections of the world. Before Mr. Collins demonstrated the feasibility of employing power machinery in the production of Iowa crops, the ideal unit, and indeed the average unit, was 160 acres. Mechanized production, however, has raised the size of the practical unit from 1,000 to 2,000 acres. The Collins Farm company operates its properties in units of 1,500 to 2,000 acres, each consisting of several tracts of 160 acres to 320 acres, located with a radius of less than ten miles. Each unit is under direct supervision of a salaried foreman who lives in a dwelling provided by the company and carries on the field operations under direction of a divisional manager.
Each tract in the group is operated as a single field and is planted to a single crop in the rotation program. In the working of its present holdings, The Collins Farms Company employs seventy-five general purpose tractors, nineteen combined harvesters-threshers, fifteen two-row corn harvesters, seventy-five plows, forty grain drills and associated equipment. This machinery is transported over hard surface state road system by means of ten motor trucks with semi-trailers capable of hauling three tractors to a load. Field machinery is entirely equipped with electric lighting systems to permit twenty-four hour operation.
ITINERATING MACHINE SHOP MAINTAINED.
The problem of maintaining the machinery in the best mechanical condition as well as designing and building certain special equipment such as seed treating and drying machinery, is in the hands of a high-salaried equipment engineer. In the routine maintenance of field equipment he employs a small core of highly trained mechanics. These men are equipped with complete machine shops built on motor trucks so that they can carry with them to the field a stock of replacement parts, special service tools and electrically driven drills, grinders, valve facing machines and lacquer spray equipment. Special equipment is built in the company's shops on a farm near Cedar Rapids.
Barns and silos on the company's farms have been converted for grain storage. Large bins and self-acting ventilators have been installed so that single barns furnish storage for as much as 15,000 bushels of corn.
Land as it has been operated under the old system is not immediately suitable for intensive production. It is usually found to be deficient in drainage and highly acid. When a new tract is acquired the Collins Farms company's drainage engineer makes a careful survey and lays out plans for a complete system of tiling. The tiling system, consisting in most cases of laterals spaced 100 feet apart, with proper outlets and intakes, is installed at a cost of approximately $25 per acre.
This assures that the soil will be of the most favorable condition of moisture both in abnormally dry as well as wet seasons. Acidity of the soil which prevents the growth of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria is overcome by the application of lime (calcium carbonate) at the rate of three tons to the acre. Limestone is abundant in Iowa so this application causes a minimum of expense.
The land is then ready to go into the routine crop program. The Collins Farms company's relation embraces such crops as corn, wheat, oats, flax, barley, soy beans, alfalfa and sweet clover.
Sweet clover, which can be grown only after the soil has been limed, is used as the fertilizer crop, and as such is much superior to manure. Sweet clover on the Collins Farms frequently attains a height of eight to ten feet and a single crop is equivalent in nitrogenous content to an application of from ten to fifteen tons of barnyard manure to the acre.
To obtain an insight into the field technique employed, let us follow through the growing of a crop of corn:
After harvesting the seed the rank growth of sweet clover is plowed under during the early fall. A large disc\plow is used in this operation, tilling the soil to a depth of eight inches. During the fall and early spring the soil is given several cultivations to sterilize it of weed growth. Specially prepared and treated seed corn is then planted with the four-row corn planter.
CORN CAN BE GROWN FOR $11 AN ACRE.
Until the plants reach a height of ten inches the corn is cultivated with the six-row rotary hoe. It is then given two or three cultivations with the four-row cultivator attach to the general purpose tractor. In the fall, the corn is harvested with the two-row cornpicker, one man and one machine picking 1200 bushels a day. Corn can be grown using these methods at a total cost of $10 to $11 an acre. After one or two crops of sweet clover have been plowed under a yield of seventy bushels of corn to the acre is average.
The Collins Farms Company is able to occupy a unique position in the production of pure seed and in the multiplication of new varieties of grains.
The seeds department of the company has charge of growing certified seed for outside consumption. With large fields and with the harvesting and treating machinery under its complete control all chance of contamination by alien varieties is eliminated. Hybridized seed corn, for its own use, is produced by the company and is artificially dried by equipment designed by its own engineers.
In its operations The Collins Farms Company has adapted the use of the light-weight, high-speed general-purpose tractor to Iowa conditions. This is in contrast to mammoth and cumbersome units used by some operators in the semi-arid wheat sections. A scientific technique is, of course, of vital importance in the new order of agriculture, but the signal thing about the Collins Farms company has been the building up of a highly trained and coordinated personnel. The operating personnel is made up of able and intelligent men, many of them graduates of the Iowa State College of agriculture and mechanic arts.
FORMEN RECEIVE EIGHT DAYS OF INSTRUCTION.
The general manager is Allen G. Thurman, a most able and trained leader of men, who has for the last twenty years been county agent associated with the state extension department, and for many years prior to his joining Collins organization was a successful farm operator and manager. During February of each year all superintendents and foremen are gathered together in the central office of the company and given an eight day course of instruction. Competent specialists in their field of agronomy review the salient findings and development in their lines. Crop and land development programs for the coming years are announced and explained. Budgets are completed and placed so that each personnel executive has a comprehensive knowledge not only of his own department but of the objectives of the organization as a whole.
In the opinion of those responsible for this organization, grain production in the corn belt necessarily will be carried out on a large-scale basis. It is not thought that the corporate ownership of farm lands will displace private ownership, not at all.
In the case of the Collins Farms company the corporate form of organization was employed solely for the purpose of obtaining capital. It has, however, demonstrated the economy of the 1,000 acre unit employing power machinery.
In the operation of these units of this vast, growing and successful enterprise is to be found the finest type of community interest and real comradeship. Look into the faces of the group of men who attended the executive school. Do you find anyone in that group whom a cartoonist would be apt to select as a peasant type? It is not rather true that one can see in that group many who promise in a short time to be executives themselves – teachers not pupils?
To displace the farm home with a desk, either roll-top or flat top, is far from the thought of men back of this enterprise, as far from their thought of displacement of fields of green and gold with synthetic products manufactured in a laboratory, products which would abolish the kitchen and dining room, and replace bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, butter, eggs, and ice cream with capsules of condensed food as tasteless as sawdust.
No indeed! This is a real human enterprise. Each unit has its home, its fireside and it household goods. There is a spirit of brotherhood throughout the entire organization, from the principal stockholder and executive to the latest man employed which is as genuine and wholesome as any that exists on any 80, 160 or 220 acre farm in Iowa or elsewhere.