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Holding on to a piece of the past: Retired Minnesota farmer gets kicks from planting the old-fashioned way

Iona, Minn. - Vince Crowley didn't seem to mind the dust Snip and Barney kicked up on a windy afternoon just north of the Murray County hamlet of Iona.

Iona, Minn. - Vince Crowley didn't seem to mind the dust Snip and Barney kicked up on a windy afternoon just north of the Murray County hamlet of Iona.

He simply leaned back in his seat, let the reins dangle from his hands and watched as corn seed was spit from the seed box on his two-row John Deere Moline planter.

"This is just playin'," said the weathered Crowley with a grin. "I kind of retired in 1985."

As any farmer will tell you, they never truly retire.

It was then that Crowley pointed across the section, in the direction of a noticeable drone of modern farm machinery. His son, Brian, was planting a soybean field over there.


The contrast spoke volumes of the changes that have taken place in farming in the last half-century.

Yet, despite all the time-saving improvements made in advancing from genuine horse power to air-conditioned, surround-sound comfort cabs, there are still a few of the old folks around who like to take a step back in time.

At least for a little while.

Crowley's corn patch amounts to little more than an acre - paling in comparison to the hundreds of acres his son farms.

In the course of two afternoons, his team of black Percherons pulled the planter through the rich, black soil. The farm dog, Brandy, moved his little legs at a much faster pace alongside the geldings.

And Crowley, seated between the two seed boxes, closely eyed his work - they call it checking corn. As the planter followed along guide wires, he watched as four seeds would drop each time the knotted wire tripped the seed box.

"We had one at home for several years before I went into the service," said Crowley of the two-row con-traption. "When you farmed a half-section, it took a little while."

After a stint in the war, Crowley returned home to farm. He still recalls going in with his dad and brother to purchase an upgraded, four-row model planter.


While those planters are long gone now, Crowley managed to get his hands on several similar models over the years. Each was restored by him and either sold or given to his sons. He kept the two-row John Deere Moline for himself.

"I farmed a quarter in 1946," said Crowley of his first year of working the land for himself. "I bought a planter for $7.50."

You couldn't touch a planter for that today - perhaps not even for the horse-powered kind.

"This (seed) box, for a collector, is probably worth more than the whole planter," he said.

For that matter, the Round-Up Ready corn seed Crowley poured into the box was likely more valuable as well.

"It was $2.80 for a full bushel of DeKalb corn when I started farming in 1946," he recalled. "Today, some of the specialized seed is $180 for 80,000 kernels."

Those 80,000 kernels are equal to only about half a bushel.

Despite the high cost for treated or genetically modified seed, Crowley said it makes farming easier. If the weather doesn't cooperate or he runs out of time, he can just spray the acre for weeds rather than get in there with the cultivator.


Come fall, Crowley said he hopes to bring out his 1940s-era self-propelled corn picker to harvest the crop.

"It can pick two rows at a time," he said. "We used it last year, too."

Julie Buntjer is a reporter for The Worthington Daily Globe, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.

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