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Farmers swap stories at ag meeting

Staff writer

Talk to farmers about past experiences, and one receives a variety of responses.

The farmers who reminisced Saturday at the Agri Producers, Inc. annual meeting in Tampa talked about weather, the economy, and old times.

Gaylord Hamm of Durham remembered a snowstorm in the 1970s that brought a ton of snow, making it impossible to get around.

“I had to scoop a path to the barn from the house, and I couldn’t feed my cattle for two days,” he said.

Ed Belton of Tampa remembered a Saturday night in late February 1998 when a major snowstorm with big flakes and strong wind hit the area.

“It snowed all night Saturday and most of Sunday,” he said. “There were a lot of big drifts everywhere. A lot of people lost cattle. I was lucky and didn’t lose any.”

John Oborny of Durham said 1993 was a rainy year.

“It rained all the time, and I had a heck of a time keeping the cattle alive,” he said. “Calves were born in the mud, and I had to drag them out with a sled because the mud was so deep.”

He put newborn calves with their mothers into a barn and battled sickness in his calves.

The agricultural recession in the early 1980s was fresh on the mind of Brad Backhus of Tampa.

“I lost a lot of farmer friends,” he said.

In 1979, grain prices were good, and farmland was worth $750 an acre. By 1981, land prices had fallen as low as $200 an acre, grain prices were low, and the interest rate on loans was sky high. Backhus said he bought a 1086 1-year-old International tractor in 1979 for $500. Because of the high interest rate, he figured he paid for the tractor twice. When he purchased another tractor several years later, the interest rate had dropped to 3.9 percent.

The hot, dry summer of 1980 added to the troubles of that time. The temperature was above 100 degrees every day, sometimes reaching nearly 120 degrees.

“I had to work at night because the tractor got too hot during the day,” Backhus said.

He said his silage corn grew only two feet tall that summer, but he was able to buy some six-foot tall corn from around the Marion Reservoir for $80 an acre and more.

Backhus had a dairy. He said the milk price remained high during that turbulent time, and that’s what saved him.

Ron and Francis Jirak of Tampa harkened back to “the good ole’ days.” There were six brothers in the family. Francis said their father, Leo, the founder of Jirak Produce, already was raising melons in the 1940s. Francis remembered delivering watermelons to neighbors in the area for one cent a pound.

The Jirak farm had 4,000 laying hens and produced eggs under contract. In one incident, their father gave Ron and his brother Steve the job of catching 500 chickens and moving them to another chicken house. They cornered them and began catching and carrying them out. Everything went fine until they found a hen that was smothered. They kept finding dead hens, and ended up with 54 of them.

They were frightened because Leo had warned them about overcrowding the chickens, so they started hauling them off to a draw on their farm. However, their father spotted them. He made them bring the dead hens back and feather them.

Glenn Carlson of Burdick helped his father, Harold, milk up to 15 cows twice a day by hand. The milk was carried to the house to separate the cream. One incident Carlson remembers was when, as a child, he was riding in the backseat of a Chevrolet four-door coupe with cans full of cream that was being delivered to Herington. He fell asleep, and the car door came open. He fell out along with a cream can.

“There were no safety latches back then,” he said. “Luckily, I only suffered a broken arm.”

Carlson said they had about 1,200 chickens and produced hatching eggs for a company in Clay Center.

Agri Producers has elevators at Tampa, Lincolnville, Herington, Durham, Carlton, and Gypsum.

At least 119 members and many spouses attended the meeting. 90-year-old Sylvia Bezdek was the oldest member present.

Last modified March 11, 2015

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