WALLACES FARMER CELEBRATES 150 YEARS SERVING IOWA FARMERS
by Frank Holdmeyer
It was a time when farmers made up two-thirds of the labor force in the United States, there was no U.S. Department of Agriculture and sod houses were still common on the prairie.
Pioneer farmers thought life was good in 1855. It appeared all they had to do was break the sod, bring in livestock, split rails, build houses and barns, raise a crop and then collect a good price. Hogs were $5.32 per cwt, wheat $1.21 a bushel and land only $1.25 per acre.
How did farmers farm back then? In Ohio and Illinois and on a few farms in Iowa the McCormick reaper was taking hold. And primitive threshing machines were being tried out.
But on the Iowa frontier you still cut wheat with a cradle and threshed it with horses or a flail. Some farmers used ox teams to break the prairie sod with John Deere's steel plow.
New farming methods were on the way, however. The demands of the Civil War would break up the prairie sod, put reapers to work and drop the hand-farming methods that had ruled agriculture for centuries.
Wallaces Farmer has been on the scene ever since, chronicling the vast changes in Iowa agriculture as well as providing information to help farmers trim costs and boost profits.
WHAT THE MAGAZINE COVERED
In the early period the paper did a good bit of old-fashioned boosting: "Come to Iowa where the soil is rich, land is cheap." After the crash of 1857 there was more written about prices and farm problems. But for the most part the paper dealt with the routine chores of the farm, what to do for this disease and that, what kind of apples to plant, which wheat varieties yielded the best, etc.
Fiction and essays helped fill the publication. After all, for many farmers this was the only reading material they had. The editor tried to put in his few pages the same ingredients modern farmers get from household magazines, newspapers, radio and television (and the Internet).
Folks relied on the advice and reporting in the publication. Your great, great grandfather took the publication. And he read it. Then he turned to his wife and said: "It says here that new horse-reaper is doing all right in Illinois. If hogs sell good, maybe we could get one next year."
"Our mission remains much the same today -- to provide Iowa farmers with accurate, useful information to help them profitably manage their farming operations, improve their quality of life and contribute to the prosperity of the agricultural community," points out Rod Swoboda, editor.
"Unlike 150 years ago, modern farmers have more reading material than they can read. But our readers tell us they still enjoy the mix of informative, educational and human interest articles we offer today," continues Swoboda.
Wallaces Farmer has recognized outstanding farmers and farm wives since the mid-1920s. The first Wallaces Farmer Iowa Master Farmer awards ceremony was Jan. 13, 1927, in Des Moines and was broadcast live on WHO Radio. The Iowa Master Farm Homemaker program was begun in 1928.
The publication has also sponsored the Farm Progress Show on a rotating basis with Illinois and Indiana since 1959. In addition, Wallaces Farmer sponsored the first Farm Progress Hay Expo in 1986.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
As competition among farm publications heated up in the late '80s, Farm Progress, parent of Wallaces Farmer, moved to meet the competition head on. Wallaces Farmer expanded with state versions in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Minnesota. Those versions were published until Farm Progress purchased Harvest Publishing in 1991.
Also, in 1986 Wallaces Farmer, which had always been a tabloid publication, was selected to "test" reader reaction to a downsized, standard magazine format. Within a year Wallaces Farmer and the other Farm Progress publications were downsized, sported more four-color and were perfect bound rather than saddle-stitched.
150 YEARS LATER
A century and a half from its beginnings, Wallaces Farmer continues to provide Iowa farmers with timely information to help them cut costs and maximize profitability -- not only in the publication but on its Web site as well.
And as the saying goes, "History repeats itself." Supporting that saying, Wallaces Farmer is again a tabloid. "It's part of our competitive strategy to provide our readers with as much local information as possible and our advertisers an affordable vehicle for their message," says Willie Vogt, Farm Progress corporate editorial director.
In 2005 Wallaces Farmer readers are being treated to a look back at the 150-year history of the publication and Iowa agriculture. "We have a special section in each issue this year with features on the magazine's history as well as how agriculture has changed over the past 150 years," explains Swoboda.
Henry A. Wallace, Wallaces Farmer editor from 1924 to '46, founded Pioneer Hybrid Corn Company in 1926. Befitting that long association, Pioneer Hi-Bred International is the major sponsor of the special section appearing in each issue of Wallaces Farmer in 2005.
"Henry A. Wallace's attitude toward publishing and communicating with farmers is a part of the culture of our company," says Dave Knau, director of sales and marketing communications.
"It has stayed with us and is even imbedded in our long-look business philosophy. That is, to communicate openly and honestly with our farmer customers, employees and business partners.
"We have always been publishers to some degree if you look at the volume of materials we provide our customers," he continues. "And just like the magazine, our communications have evolved and modernized over the years. Our Growing Point Web site is the largest online agronomic library, for example. All of that is in the spirit that was laid down during those years of Henry A. Wallace about communicating with farmers. That's the legacy of that relationship." AM
Frank Holdmeyer is executive editor for the Farm Progress Midwest publications.