Soybean Farming in Butternut Township (Part I of 2 Parts)

Soybean Farming in Butternut Valley Township (Part 1 of 2 parts)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

Like corn, soybeans were planted in 40 inch rows and when they mature, soybeans tend to cover the 40 inch space between the rows.
Like corn, soybeans were planted in 40 inch rows and when they mature, the rank growth of a mature crop of soybeans tend to cover the 40 inch space between the rows.

 

Although officially organized May of 1858, settlement in Butternut Valley Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, was still quite new in 1900.  As previously noted, the first settlers in Butternut Valley Township raised wheat.  (See the article called “Case Part II: Steam Engines and Threshers” in the March/April 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Wheat was the predominate crop in Butternut Valley Township and the neighboring townships of Cambria, Judson, Garden City and Lincoln Townships.  However, as the twentieth century progressed wheat production declined as corn replaced wheat on farms.  By 1921, more that 109,778 acres of corn were planted and harvested in the whole of Blue Earth County while wheat acreage had decreased to 43,520 acres for the county as a whole.  With the coming of the Second World War, production of corn continued dominate the agricultural landscape of Blue Earth County reaching 136,900 acres of corn harvested in 1943.  Meanwhile, wheat production in Blue Earth County fell to a miniscule 7,600 acres in 1943.

 

Butternut Valley Towhship is located on the western boundary of Blue Earth County second from the top below Cambria Township. The Honeymead plant is in South Bend Township on the border with Mankato Township.

 

During the same period of time, other changes were occurring on Blue Earth County farms that were reflected in the crops that were raised in the county.  Acreage allotted to the raising of hay in Blue Earth County fell from 59,505 acres harvested in 1921 to 41,100 acres harvested in 1943.  This reflected the fact that farmers were purchasing more farm tractors and selling off their horses.  Consequently, they no longer needed to feed the horses all year long.  Thus, the average farm could reduced the amount of hay raised each year.  As a result, the average farm in Blue Earth County had acreage that could now be devoted to some other crop.

For a time in the 1920s barley production rose to fill this gap in production acreage on the average farm in Blue Earth County.  In 1921, only 7,134 acres of Blue Earth County’s arable land was planted to barley.  However, in 1927 barley acreage shot up to 12,300 acres.  In 1928 barley acreage in the county doubled to 25,200 acres.  Eventually, the dramatic growth of acreage planted to barley in Blue Earth County reached a total of 33,800 acres in 1938.  However, barley production in Blue Earth County fell as dramatically as it had grown.  By 1943, the acreage devoted to barley in the county fell to only 5,400 acres and in the following year (1944) barley acreage fell to a mere 700 acres in the county.

Coinciding with the decline in the production of in barley was a rise in the production of flax in Blue Earth County.  In 1938 only 2,300 acres of flax had been raised in Blue Earth County.  However, in 1939 flax acreage shot up to 11,900 acres.  Blue Earth County production of flax continued to climb and in 1943, 20,300 acres in the county was planted to flax.  However, in 1944, acreage planted to flax was cut in half—down to only 9,500 acres in the county as a whole.  As suddenly as it had appeared, flax production fell to nothing.  Farmers in Blue Earth County were turning to production of something else apart from wheat, apart from barley and apart from flax.  The crop to which they turned was the lowly soy bean.

Native to the orient, where it was a staple of human consumption, the soybean was introduced in the United States in 1804.  In 1879, two agricultural stations in New Jersey started growing and working with the soybean.  Ten years later, in 1889, several more agricultural experiment stations were actively researching the soybean.  In 1896, famous botanist George Washington Carver, from Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, discovered and refined over 300 by-products derived from the soybean.  The two most important marketable products of soybeans were edible oil and meal.  In 1922, the first soybean processing plant in the United States was opened.

However the soybean lacked a lucrative market for itself or any of its many by-products.  Henry Ford set out, in the 1930s, to develop a market for the soybean.  First he sought to make a bio-fuel from soybeans which would power the growing number of automobiles that were starting to populate the nation.  (Robert Lacey, Ford: The Men and the Machine [Little Brown Co. Pub.: Boston, 1986] p. 231.)  Only later, did he and his Ford Company engineers create a plastic from soybeans that could be used in the Ford car.  (Ibid. p. 233.)  In 1937, Ford built a soybean processing plant right on the grounds of the Ford Company Rouge Works factory located on the banks of the Rouge River in Detroit Michigan.  (Ibid.)  Soon, plastics comprised about two pounds of the weight of every Ford car manufactured.  However, the two pounds of plastics in Ford cars were limited to small parts like insulated casings and knobs and buttons on the interior of the car.  (Ibid.)  This was still did not represent a major market for soybeans and their products.

Despite all this early attention and product research, the potential of soybeans remained unrealized—a promising product without a real market.  Accordingly, soybeans remained a side line venture in agriculture until the Second World War.  With the United States’ sudden entry into the war, there arose a real demand for clear lightweight plastics products—especially, for windshields and cowlings on military aircraft.

 

Soybean prices in World War II rose because of the plastics used in combat airplane windscreens. Although a direct shot would pierce the safety glass of these safety glass windscreens the safety glass would not shatter and cause injury to the air crew just as a result of flying glass.

 

Stimulated by military purchases of airplanes fitted with plastic cowlings and windshields, the price of soybeans soared.  Farmers began planting soybeans in a big way.  The farmers of Blue Earth County followed this trend.  In 1941, the last year before the war, only 3,400 acres of the arable land in the whole of Blue Earth County had been planted to soybeans.  However, in 1942, soybean acreage in the county tripled—reaching 11,100 acres.  By 1945, the acreage devoted to soybeans in Blue Earth County would nearly triple again—up 31,000 acres.

Butternut Valley Township along with the other Blue Earth County townships had an advantage in the soybean marketing because of the close proximity of a soybean processing plant in located Mankato, Minnesota (1940 pop. 15,654.)  Mankato is the county seat of Blue Earth County and is only about 25 miles straight east of Butternut Valley Township.  This particular soybean processing plant in Mankato had begun as an idea in the mind of a retired county extension agent, by the name of Riley Lewis.

Mankato is the county seat of Blue Earth County.

 

Riley Lewis had been persistently extolling the prospects of soybean farming for some years.  He felt the soybean may be the reliable “cash crop” of the future for many farmers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.  To aid the development of a market for soybeans, Riley had recently been advocating (to nearly anyone that would listen) that a soybean processing plant be built in the southern Minnesota or northern Iowa area.  In 1938, his idea finally fell upon fertile ground.  Riley was traveling across southeastern Minnesota and stayed a night at a boarding house in Winona, Minnesota.  While there he struck up a conversation with William Blethen, a lawyer from Mankato, Minnesota who was staying at the same boarding house.  William Blethen had traveled to Winona to handle a legal case for a client of his.  William enjoyed the diversion of a pleasant conversation which passed the time that evening after supper.  Not long into the conversation, however, Riley Lewis turned again to his favorite subject.  This time he found a willing listener.  William Blethen was intrigued by the prospects of soybeans as described by Riley.  Soybeans could become a marketable cash crop, and William was persuaded that a soybean processing plant could spur development of a market for soybeans.  William Blethen, however, felt the best location for such a processing plant was his own home town of Mankato, Minnesota.

The Chicago Northwestern Railroad passenger depot located at Front and Main Streets in downtown Mankato, Minnesota.

 

Consequently, upon his return to Mankato, he began to recruit investors for the project of building soybean processing plant in Mankato.  Soon he had a group of investors willing to invest $50,000 as initial startup capital for the project.  The first $7,500 of this initial capital was directed toward the purchase of the old abandoned Minnesota Pipe and Tile Company site located on the west edge of Mankato along the east bank of the Blue Earth River, at the mouth of that river, where it emptied into the meandering Minnesota River.  Thus in 1939, the new processing plant was opened under the name, Mankato Soybean Products, Incorporated.  Riley Lewis was hired by the newly-formed company to be the first plant manager.  In 1941, Ed Ober, replaced Riley Lewis as general manager of the soybean plant.  So weak was the market for soybeans during these years that the soybean plant did not make a profit.  However, shortly after becoming general manager, Ed Ober, hired Fran Bergemann.  Fran Bergemann was key to the early profitability of the new company—because he developed a flax-processing capability at the plant.  Only with this flax processing ability did the plant finally begin to make a profit.  It was another sign that the market for soybeans had not yet matured.

The soybean plant processing in Mankato as it looks today.

 

News of the new soybean processing plant was carried in all the local newspapers of western Blue Earth County.  One of these newspapers was the weekly Lake Crystal Tribune.  Based in the town of Lake Crystal, Minnesota, (1940 pop. 1,319), this paper was published and mailed to subscribers in and around Lake Crystal such that the newspaper would be post boxes of many farmers of the community on Thursday each week.  One such rural post office box was at the end of a long driveway leading to the farm of one particular farmer in Butternut Valley Township located eight (8) miles north and west of Lake Crystal.

Downtown Lake Crystal, Minnesota.

 

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer and his wife farmed one of the ubiquitous 160 acre farms that were spread all over the southern Minnesota.  He and his wife had lived on this farm since they were married in 1919.  He and his wife milked dairy cows, raised pigs and had a chicken flock.  They sold milk and eggs off the farm for regular income.  Each summer they marketed the pigs they had raised to provide cash income in the summer.  In the fields, they raised oats to feed their horses and chickens.  Their largest crop, however, was corn.  Part of the corn crop was cut in August each year, while it was still green.  This corn was then fed into the silo filler and blown into the silo which stood next to the barn.  The silage in the silo would be used all winter to feed the dairy herd.  The remaining corn would be picked in the late autumn and the ears of corn would be stored in the corn crib.  Part of this corn would be shelled and saved to fatten the pigs for market.  The rest of the corn would be sold to provide cash income in the winter.  He also raised hay which he fed to the cattle.

Diversified farming typical of that in Butternut Valley Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota.

 

Until recently they had been assisted in farming the land by their four boys.  However, all the boys had grown up and left the farm.  Two of them were now in the military in the Pacific.  One had become a Naval pilot and the other was a sailor in the Navy.  His wife worried incessantly over the two sons away at the war.  However, now, in the early spring of 1943, it was, once again, just he and his wife on the farm, the way it was when they were first married, except now he was older than he had been in 1919.  Accordingly, he was looking for a way to ease his workload on the farm.

Milking was done twice a day and was a steady monthly income.

 

Earlier, he had farmed exclusively with horses as a source of power on the farm.  However, in 1937, he  purchased a used 1929 Farmall to modernize his farming operation.  (These pre-1932 Farmalls were now being called “Regular Farmalls” to distinguish them from the newer more modern post-1932 Farmall Model F-20 tractors.)  Because of the Famall Regular, he had been able to get rid of some of his horses.  While his boys had been home they had loved operating the Regular in the fields during the summer.  He had kept some of the horses on the farm because he felt that, he and his sons might be able to work in the fields simultaneously with both the Regular and the horses.  As his sons left the farm, one by one, he had begun using the Regular on a more frequent basis to do all the farm work.  However, in the spring of 1940, he had an experience which indicated to him that a new tractor could ease his work on the farm even more.

Farmall Regular right rear view
A Farmall “Regular” had a tricycle format that allowed the tractor to cultivate row crops like corn and soybeans. Thus, the Regular was able to perform all the field chores on the family farm and encouraged the farmer to get rid of all the horses on the farm.

 

In the spring of that year, a neighbor became ill with pneumonia.  He was bed ridden for a number of days right in the midst of spring-time field work.  All the neighbors banded together and pitched in to help their ill neighbor with the field work.  Being the neighbor living the closest to the ill neighbor, however, it was not surprising that most of the work fell on our Butternut Valley Township farmer.  As a consequence, our Butternut Valley Township farmer was able to use his neighbor’s brand new rubber-tired Farmall H tractor.  As a means of repayment to our Butternut Valley Township farmer for all the help, the bed-ridden neighbor urged our Butternut Valley Township farmer to use the Farmall H on his own farm as well.  Using his neighbor’s tractor during this time, our Butternut Valley Township came to appreciate the electric start and the rubber tires on the tractor as he drove the tractor back and forth, to and from the neighbor’s farm over this period of time.  Rubber tires in the front and the back of the Model H allowed him to use the 16 3/8 mph road speed on the tractor.  So he could make the trip down the road in a very short amount of time.

The Famall Model H was the successor to the popular Model F-20 in the International Harvester line of farm tractors in 1939 as the F-20 had been the replacement for the Farmall “Regular” in 1932.

 

He came to appreciate all the new features of the Model H in that spring of 1940.  Discing of plowed ground with the Regular had always been a rough task.  As the steel wheels of the Regular rolled over the rough plowed ground the steering wheel was always trying to break loose from his grip and spin wildly out of control.  Both the steel wheels on the front of the Regular and the bevel-gear and sector-plate style of steering of the Regular transferred every shock directly to the steering wheel.  However, the rubber tires on the front and the worm gear type of steering of the Farmall H greatly reduced this need to fight the steering wheel while discing the plowed ground.

The open gear style of steering on the Farmall Regular made driving the tractor hard to control when driving over rough ground. hard to
The open gear style of steering on the Farmall Regular made driving the tractor hard to control when driving over rough ground and hazardous d to the operator’s hands holding the steering wheel.

 

The first time over the rough plowed ground, our Butternut Valley Township farmer could proceed no faster than second gear at 3½ miles per hour (mph).  On the second time over the field with the disc, our Butternut Township farmer drove the tractor and disc in a diagonal pattern across the field.  Even though, the contour of the furrows had been blunted somewhat by the lengthwise discing of the field the first time, the steering wheel still jerked one way then the other with each furrow the front wheels rolled over on this diagonal discing pattern.  On the third pass over the field with the disc, he pulled the disc in the opposite diagonal pattern.  Finally, the ground was getting smoother and the furrows were not evident any more.  He could now shift up to third gear and pull the disc across the ground at 4¼ mph.

The Farmall Model H was a two-plow tractor with many new improvements over the Farmall Regular
The Farmall Model H was a two-plow tractor with many new improvements over the Farmall Regular

 

It had been a fairly dry spring in 1940, thus, three times over the field with the disc and he was ready to use the drag harrow to finish the seed bed.  Dragging the seed bed could be done in fourth gear at a speed of 5-1/8 mph with the Model H.  Thus, he completed the seed bed preparation much faster than he ever had done in the past.  He would never have been able to complete so much field work so fast with his Regular.

Additionally, he could work longer hours in the field, if it were needed.  The electric lights on the front and back of the Model H allowed him to work in the field after sunset to complete the field work.  Sometimes when rain was threatening, he felt the needed to work late into the evening to get some field work done before the rains came.  He enlisted his wife to finish the evening chores in the barn, while he continued to work in the field with the Model H.  After sunset he turned on the lights of the tractor to work a while longer.  The faster working speeds and the electric lights allowed him to “beat the rain.”  The Model H made field work easier and more efficient.

Consequently, following his experience with his neighbor’s Model H, every time he and his wife went to New Ulm to do some shopping, he would find himself wandering into the his local International Harvester Company (IHC) dealer—the Fesenmaier Hardware and Implement Dealership.  New Ulm, Minnesota was the county seat of Brown County Minnesota.  Both as a larger town (1940 pop. 8,743) which offered wider variety of stores for shopping than the nearby Lake Crystal and as a closer destination (located about 15 miles north and west of their farm) than was Mankato, Minnesota (located 25 miles to the east), New Ulm was one of their favorite shopping areas.  While at Fesenmaier’s  our Butternut Valley Township farmer casually inquired as to the possibility of purchasing a Model H Farmall.

Brown County is located in southern Minnesota and New Ulm, the county seat of Brown County is located on the Minnesota River which forms the eastern boundary of the county.

 

The Fesenmaier Hardware Dealership was one of the oldest dealerships in the state of Minnesota.  Robert Fesenmaier began work, in the 1890s, as an employee of the Klossner and Miller hardware store located at the corner of Minnesota Street and 2nd Street South in New Ulm.

Broadway Street in downtown New Ulm, Minnesota

 

When Louis Miller suddenly died in 1897, the young 30-year old Robert Fesenmaier and his wife, Agnes (Siedo) Fesenmaier purchased the interest of the deceased partner.  Later, in 1900, Robert purchased the interest of the retiring Jacob Klossner.  Now, that he had all the stock of the hardware in his own name, Robert moved the location of the hardware business two and a half blocks north to a building located at 13 North Minnesota Street and changed the name of the business to “Fesenmaier Hardware.”    Robert Fesenmaier wanted to expand his business into the promising market of the sales of farm equipment.  Accordingly, Robert Fesenmaier purchased the building across the alley behind the new hardware location.  This other building bore the address of 18 North Broadway Street and became the home of farm equipment sales portion of the new business.  In 1901, Robert Fesenmaier began selling McCormick grain binders.  One year later on August 12, 1902, the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company merged with the Deering Harvester Company and a series of other farm equipment companies to form the International Harvester Company (IHC).  From this beginning IHC soon became the leading “full line” farm equipment manufacturing company.  In New Ulm, Robert Fesenmaier’s new grain binder dealership blossomed into a dealership offering a wide range of IHC farm equipment.  Now in 1940, he was busy trying to sell the new Farmall “letter-series” tractors to the farming public of Brown County.

Fesenmaier Hardware and Implement dealership purchased the advertisement at the top of page 13 in the 1945 New Ulm telephone book. Fesenmaier's had been the McCormick-Deering dealership in New Ulm, Minnesota for many years and their telephone number was 137.
Fesenmaier Hardware and Implement dealership purchased the advertisement at the top of page 13 in the 1945 New Ulm telephone book. Fesenmaier’s had been the McCormick-Deering dealership in New Ulm, Minnesota for many years and their telephone number was 137.

 

The International Harvester Company had introduced the new streamlined “letter series” Farmall tractors (the Models A, B, H and M) to replace the “unstyled” Model F-12, F-20 and F-30 tractors on July 3, 1939.  The letter-series tractors were completely new tractors re-designed from the ground up.  Although it appeared that the Model H was intended to replace the mid-range F-20 tractor and the Model M was intended to replace the F-30 tractor, both the Model H and the Model M inherited more from the design of the small F-12 tractor than they did from either the F-20 or the F-30 tractor.  (Guy Fay and Andy Kraushaar, Farmall Letter Series Tractors [MBI Publishing Company: Osceola, Wisc., 1998] p. 59.)  Foremost in this regard was the design change made to the rear end of the new tractors.  The final drives of the F-20 amd F-30 were eliminated in the letter series tractors.  This allowed the rear wheels of the Model H and Model M to be adjusted to a wide variety of wheel spacings for use in crops of any row widths.

Robert Fesenmaier soon discovered that the two-plow Farmall Model H was the most popular tractor in the new letter series.  Nationwide 10,151 Model H tractors were built and sold in 1939.

Inside the showroom of a typical McCormick-Deering dealership in the immediate pre-war period of 1940and 1941.
Inside the showroom of a typical McCormick-Deering dealership in the immediate pre-war period of 1940 and 1941.

 

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer had, of course, been aware of the new “letter-series” Farmall tractors ever since their introduction on July 3, 1939.  Indeed, he had seen an ever-increasing number of these sleek, new “styled” letter-series tractors at work in the fields of his neighbors.  Most of these new tractors in his neighbors’ fields were two-plow Farmall Model H tractors.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer had heard many of his neighbors express fears that the larger three-plow Farmall Model M tractor would be too much like the F-30.  The fear was that the Model M would be too bulky and hard to handle.  Additionally, his neighbors feared that the Famall M was also hard on gas.

International Harvester initiated a large campaign to dispel fears about the Model M being a gas guzzler.

These complaints seemed perfectly logical.  After all, the Farmall M appeared to be the direct successor of the three-plow Farmall F-30 tractor.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer knew first-hand about  the F-30 tractor.  He and his neighbors belonged to a neighborhood threshing ring and cooperated every year to thresh their oats and wheat.  This was an occasion during which farmers would often drive other tractors that belonged to their neighbors.

The bulky Farmall F-30 had a well-deserved reputation for gas guzzling. That reputation was bequeathed to its successor the Model M resulting in reduced sales of the Model M in the early years of its production run.

 

During one threshing season he had opportunity to operate a Farmall F-30 tractor that belonged to one of his neighbors.  This experience had not only convinced our Butternut Valley Township farmer about the bulkiness of the F-30, but had shown him how “thirsty” the F-30 was.  It seemed as though he was always filling the gas tank of the F-30.  In the mind of our Butternut Valley Township farmer, it stood to reason that the three-plow Farmall M would share these characteristics of the three-plow F-30 tractor.  Accordingly, our Butternut Valley Township farmer was never inclined toward considering a three-plow Farmall Model M, but, rather, always had his mind fixed on the two-plow Farmall H.

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer was strongly tempted to purchase a new Farmall Model H tractor in 1940.  As he stood in Fesenmaier’s dealership in late 1940, IHC was already well on its way toward manufacturing some 41,734 Model H tractors at the Farmall Works factory located in Rock Island, Illinois.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer had harvested a bumper corn crop in 1939.  However, the rest of the country had also enjoyed a bumper crop.  Accordingly, when this corn came to market in February of 1940, the price of corn fell to only 62¢ per bushel.  Consequently, our Butternut Valley Township farmer felt insecure about taking the risk of purchasing a new tractor at the time and so put off the purchase of a new tractor until another year.  It was a decision that he would come to regret because conditions in the world were changing, rapidly.

A train load of Farmalls leave the Rock Island “Farmall Works” in Rock Island Illinois. Most of which were Model H Farmalls until almost 1950 wjhen the 3-plow Model cluding the Farmall M finally began to out sell the Model H.

 

Just after Christmas of 1940, on December 29, our Butternut Valley Township farmer and his wife listened to President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech which since that time had became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy” speech.  In the speech, the President asked for sacrifices on the part of the United States citizens to produce arms and ordinance for Britain, and China in their fight against the totalitarian governments of Germany, Italy and Japan.  At the time he heard the speech, our Butternut Valley Township farmer was not cognizant of the full implications of this speech.  However, as the new year (1941) progressed, the full impact of the speech became clear.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy” speech of December 20, 1940.

 

During his visits to the Fesenmaier Hardware Dealership in 1941, he saw far fewer new tractors and new farm machinery in the inventory of the dealership.  He learned that dealership was finding it hard to obtain farm equipment and farm tractors from the International Harvester Company district warehouse or “block house” facility located at 426 North Front Street in Mankato because IHC as a whole was being restricted in the amount of equipment they were allowed to make.  Industrial raw materials, such as iron ore and, especially, rubber for civilian use were being severely restricted, by the United States government and these products were channeled into military production to supply Britain and China in the war.  This meant that there was precious little in the way of new farm implements that would be available for sale to individual farmers.  Bad as the situation was in 1941, it soon became worse.

The “Arsenal of Democracy” speech led to a campaign to help supply Britain and China with military aid against the “Axis” powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.

On December 7, 1941, the United States suddenly found itself at war.  New farm machinery, which had been difficult to obtain, now became impossible to obtain as raw materials were restricted even more for use in military production.  Industrial factories all across the nation were re-tooled for military production.  The International Harvester Company, for example, was busily producing military trucks, tanks, gun carriages, automatic aircraft cannons, anti-aircraft gun loaders, tank transmissions, torpedoes and much more.  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester [Doubleday and Co. Pub.: Garden City, N.Y., 1985] p. 71.)  Production of Model H tractors had already sustained a 2.1% drop in production in 1941, but in 1942 production of Model H tractors was decreased by another 29.4%.  Furthermore, what few Farmall Model H tractors that were being manufactured at the Farmall Works were being fitted with steel wheels front and rear and, commonly, did not have electric lights, electric starting nor did these tractors have the “lift all” hydraulic system.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer was less inclined to purchase one of these Farmall H tractors.  He realized that the lack rubber tires and the lack of electric starting on the Model H would severely limit the advantages of the new Model H over his present Farmall Regular.  Top speed of the steel wheeled Model H would be confined to fourth gear—5-1/8 mph and although the Model H would be furnished with the worm gear type of steering, the steel wheels on the front of the Famall H would reduce steadiness and effectiveness of the steering of the tractor on rough ground.

Rubber was also restricted during the Second World War, for use only in the war effort. Thus the few farm tractors that were produced were generally mounted on steel wheels.

 

The sales staff at Fesenmaier Hardware in New Ulm, Minnesota offered to place our Butternut Valley Township farmer’s name on a list of buyers the dealership was compiling.  Dealerships all across the United States had been authorized by IHC  to put the names of potential tractor buyers on a list in chronological order, according to the date of their request.  As the tractors trickled into the dealership, the individual tractors would be offered to the buyers on the list, starting at the top of the list.  If the buyer rejected the offer when the tractor arrived at the dealership, the tractor the tractor would then be offered to the next buyer on the list.  In this way the dealership would work its way down the list as the tractors came in to the dealership.  Meanwhile, new buyers who came into the dealership wanting to buy a tractor would be added to the bottom of the list.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer, however, rejected the offer to be placed on the list of buyers at this particular time.  A Farmall H tractors fitted with steel wheels and without electric starting would be little better that the Regular he already owned.  Accordingly, the decision to purchase a new tractor was once again deferred.  His attention now was being drawn in another direction as a means of improving his farming operation.

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer had been following the development of the soybean market and the establishment of the processing plant in Mankato.  He knew that the building of the processing plant would make it easier to market soybeans.  However, he remained uninspired about the prospect of growing soybeans as a cash crop until 1941, when the price of soybeans suddenly rose from its 1940 average price of $.89 per bushel to an average price of $1.55 per bushel for the entire year in 1941—a 74.2% increase in the price in just one year.  This startling increase in price definitely captured the attention of our Butternut Valley Township farmer.  Accordingly, in the spring of 1942, our Butternut Valley Township farmer planted one of his smaller fields to soybeans.

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer continued to use his Farmall Regular into the Second World War.

 

While corn could be planted when the soil temperatures reached 50º to 55ºF, soybeans were should be planted only when the soil had reached a temperature of 55º to 60ºF.  Accordingly, soybeans were traditionally planted only after the corn had been planted on diversified farms.  The spring of 1942 was warm and presented no problems about soil temperatures.  However, because of the frequent spring rains in 1942, our Butternut Valley Township farmer was delayed in getting into the field only by the need to let the soil dry out.

 

The McCormick=Deering Model 8 corn planter was made between 1919 and 1931.

 

Since soybeans needed to be planted in rows, he used his McCormick-Deering Model 8 two-row corn planter to plant the soybeans.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer had shortened the tongue of the Model 8 corn planter to convert the planter from a horse-drawn implement into a planter that could be pulled behind his Farmall Regular.  Unlike corn, which was planted in “hills” of three or four seeds per hill, along the row, soybeans were “drilled” into the rows in a long continuous stream.  Accordingly, our Butternut Valley Township farmer adjusted both planting units on his planter for drilling seed rather than “check” style planting that he had used to plant his corn.  However, he also needed to replace the round planter plates at bottom of the two seed containers on his planter.  Accordingly, in the early spring of 1942, our Butternut Valley Township farmer purchased these two “soybean” planter plates from Fesenmaier Hardware.

Fesenmairer Hardware and Implement Dealership located at 13 North Minnesota Street in New Ulm, Minnesota

 

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer was not alone in his decision to plant soybeans in the spring of 1942.  The number of acres planted to soybeans in Blue Earth County increased from a mere 3,400 acres in 1941 to 11,100 acres in 1942.  From planting to harvest, soybeans need 120 days for a full growing season.  Mature soybeans grow to a height of about 36 inches.  The growing season of 1942 was glorious for soybeans.  With just the right amount of rain and under the bright sun all summer, temperatures stayed within a range of 68° to 86°F—the ideal temperature range for growing soybeans—the soybeans thrived in 1942.

Warm temperatures and frequent rains in the Spring of 1942 resulted in a strong vigorous start to the

 

Because the soybeans were a row crop, they could be cultivated lengthwise.  However, because the soybeans were drilled into rows rather than spaced out in hills along the rows like corn, soybeans could not be “cross cultivated.”  In order to remove those weeds that were growing up within the rows of soybeans, our Butternut Valley Township farmer would “walk the beans” in the summer with a hoe and chop out the weeds that were missed by the cultivator.  Ordinarily this might have been the task of the young children of the family.  However, all his children had moved off the farm.  Consequently, he hired on some of the younger members of the Butternut Valley Boosters, the local township 4-H club, to walk the beans with him.  However, when the soybeans reach a height of 15 to 18 inches in about mid-July the flowering of the soybeans begins.  At this stage the soybean plants had be begun to bush out and narrow the pathway between the rows.

Soybeans should not be cultivated after they have grown to cover the pathway between the rows. (Note in the background in the upper right of the picture some teenagers are “walking” the beans to pull out every last weed that may have been missed by the cultivator.)

 

Our Butternut Valley Township farmer knew that he should be done with his cultivating by this time.  Driving the Regular and cultivator through the soybeans at this stage of growth would unduly disturb the soybeans and knock off the purple colored flowers.  Less flowers would mean less soybean pods and less yield during the harvest in the fall.  As the soybeans continued to grow and they reached their full mature height of 36 inches in August, they would totally obscure the pathway between the rows.  At this stage, our Butternut Valley Township farmer knew that even walking the beans was counter productive because of the flowers and newly formed, still developing fuzzy little seed pods that might be knocked off by a person passing between the rows.  Besides with soybeans totally shading the whole pathway between the rows, weeds had no sunlight to start growing at all.  Better to stop all walking of the soybeans at this stage and stay out of the fields altogether until harvest.

The fuzzy seed-pods of soy-bean plants usually contain three beans per pod.
The fuzzy seed-pods of soy-bean plants usually contain three beans per pod.

Thanks to the magnificent growing season in 1942, our Butternut Valley Township farmer, harvested a bumper crop of soybeans on his farm.  Indeed, the average soybean yield for all of Blue Earth County set a new record of 19 bushels per acre.  (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page on the United States Department of Agriculture website.)  Production of soybeans in 1942 in Blue Earth County mushroomed to 210,900 bushels, almost four times the production of 1941—54,400 bushels.  Nationwide the 1942 soybean crop was also a bumper crop for soybeans.  Production of soybeans rose by 57% in just one short year (from 107,197,000 bushels in 1941 to 187,524,000 bushels in 1942).  Still despite this huge glut of soybeans coming onto the market in the fall of 1942 there was no decrease in the price of soybeans.  Indeed, so strong was the wartime demand for soybean products, that the average price of soybeans continued to rise.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer received $1.60 per bushel for his soybeans in the fall of 1942.

The soybean was quickly becoming an important cash crop on the farm of our Butternut Valley Township farmer.  Still, corn remained the ace in his diversified farming operation—the first and primary cash crop on the farm.  Just like his soybean crop, the corn crop of 1942 was also a bumper crop.  Blue Earth County set a new record for the production of corn in 1942, with 6,484,400 bushels produced that year.  The average county-wide crop yield of corn in 1942 for Blue Earth County reached 52 bushels of corn per acre—also setting a new record for the second year in a row.  Nor was Blue Earth County an exception in this regard.  As with soybeans, the bumper crop in corn was also a nation-wide phenomenon.  Nationwide corn production reached 2.8 billion bushels.  Unlike soybeans, which are usually dry enough to be marketed straight from the field following harvest, corn cannot be sold directly from the field following harvest.  Corn must be dried first.  The ear corn needed to be stored on the farm in corn cribs to allow the cold dry air of winter to dry the corn.

Being unable to purchase a new tractor before the entry of the United States into the Second World War, our Butternut Valley Township farmer had to make due with his 1931 Farmall Regular for the cultivation of his new crop of soybeans through out the first part of the war.

 

The corn harvest in the fall of 1942 had been so large that our Butternut Valley Township farmer was hard pressed to store all the ear corn from the field.  He had corn stored every where on his farm.  The double corn crib was filled to the eaves.  He piled corn in the alley way of this corn crib.  He would have to find somewhere else to store the wagon and other machinery that he usually kept in the alleyway.  His cylindrical wire mesh Siebring Manufacturing Company corn crib was full to the top and he also had constructed a temporary corn crib made from his two wooden slatted “snow fences” unrolled with the ends wired securely together to form a circular storage crib for the ear corn.  Then a canvas tarp was placed over the top of this temporary corn crib to keep rain off the corn.

Temporary circular corn cribs made of snow fence being filled with the surplus corn of a bumper crop that would not fit into the regular corn crib on the farm.

 

The ear corn picked by our Butternut Valley Township farmer was harvested in the fall of 1942 and spent the winter of 1942-43 drying “on the ear” in the corn crib.  For drying ear corn the weather of the winter of 1942-43 was almost perfect.  The winter was colder than normal with some temperatures reaching down to -31°F below zero.  Cold air is dry air and the colder the drier.

The corn was to be shelled in the early 1943.  However, not only was the winter of 1942-1943 very cold, it was also was also a “closed” winter with about 14 inches of snow covering the ground for most of the winter.  The deep snow accumulations made it difficult to get around the yard.  Consequently, our Butternut Valley Township farmer was forced to delay shelling the ear corn until a sudden warm spell in mid-to-late February melted the snow.

A “closed” winter makes it difficult for the farm family to get around the yard of their farm and do the daily chores.

 

Saving out only the shelled corn that he needed for feed for the animals on his farm, our Butternut Valley Township farmer sold the rest of the corn to the grain elevator in Lake Crystal, Minnesota.  As the bumper crop of corn from across the nation began hitting the market in early 1943, everyone expected the price of corn to decline precipitously.  This might have happened in a normal year.  However this was not a normal year.  The United States was at war and the strong demand for corn created by military buying to feed the large armies in Europe and the Pacific kept the price of corn high.  The price of corn actually rose despite the glut of corn coming onto the market.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer received a price of $1.06 per bushel for his corn.  This relatively high price had not been seen since September of 1937.  For our Butternut Valley Township farmer as for farmers across the nation, this was an ideal situation—a relatively high market price and plenty of crop to sell at that price.  (In the following months, however, our Butternut Valley Township farmer wished that he had more corn to sell.  Despite the glut of corn coming onto the market, the price kept on rising, reaching $1.11 per bushel as an average for the month of March, $1.13 for April and $1.15 for the months of May and June, 1943.)

As he reflected back on the previous year, our Butternut Valley Township farmer realized that, now with two row crops instead of one, he would be spending more time in the fields in the summer cultivating his row crops.  Cultivating the row crops was a time consuming task in the summer.  Our Butternut Valley Township farmer knew that a modern farm tractor with hydraulics, electric starting, electric lights and rubber tires would greatly increase the speed with which he could cultivate his row crops and reduce the time he would spend in the fields each summer.  Consequently, he began to think seriously about obtaining a new, more modern farm tractor to upgrade his farming operation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *