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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Flat Aggie Adventures in Illinois Corn Harvest

I am so thankful for farmer friends that host Flat Aggie for 4 different classes in 2 states.  In October, Flat Aggie traveled to visit Katie Pratt and learn about corn harvest.  Katie be found at her blog Rural Route 2, the Life and Times of an Illinois Farm Girl, on Facebook and on Twitter.-KFM

Dear Mrs. Piatt’s Class: 

Wow! Did I ever have a corn-filled adventure with the Pratt family from Dixon, Illinois.  That’s all they grow on this farm – field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, decorative corn, seed corn and some soybeans.  I had a very busy time here because we harvested almost every type of corn, made dinner for the harvest crew and even taught a first grader class about . . . what else?  Corn!
The farm’s name is Grand Prairie Farms and they raise field corn, soybeans and seed corn in north central Illinois.  While I visited the weather was beautiful with warm days, cool nights and lots of sun. 
During harvest, Mr. Pratt starts his days at 5 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t stop working until 9 or 10 p.m. at night.  Those are long days, but the family enjoys working with each other and their neighbors. 

Our first project was picking seed corn.  Seed corn is the seed that other farmers will plant in their fields next year.  They raise seed for Wyffels Hybrids.  A seed corn picker strips the ear of corn from the stalk, piles it in the bin and then unloads it into the dump cart.  Instead of using an auger or conveyor to move the corn from one piece of equipment to the next, the entire wagon will lift up and dump.  
See the ears of corn bouncing into the bin of the seed corn picker.  Then watch as the dump cart literally rises up off is platform and dumps the corn into the waiting semi-truck.  It is dusty!

Because seed corn is such an important crop (these are the seeds for next year’s fields), the Pratts worked quickly to get the corn picked before the temperatures got too cold.  Some days there were three pickers working in one field, and one morning 12 semi-trucks were waiting for loads to take to the plant.  Whew!  

After the seed corn was finished, we moved into soybeans, and I got to drive the semi-truck.
The combine uses different heads to pick different crops.  You can see the roller of the soybean head here and the full bin of the combine.   

This load is ready to dump!  The auger swings out over the semi-truck and with a touch of the button, the beans unload.  The beans are taken back to the main farm and stored in a grain bin until it is time to sell them.  
 Soybeans are used in many things include food that we eat, feed that animals eat and fuel that powers school buses.  Soybeans are nutritious and full of protein. 

Not every day is work in the fields.  Mrs. Pratt works with a program called Agriculture in the Classroom and one day she taught three first grade classes about different types of corn.  I got to go with!

This is Mrs. Springman’s first grade class at Washington School in Dixon, Illinois.  During the lesson, they learned about the four different types of corn (field, sweet, pop and decorative).  They also measured themselves with a corn stalk from the Pratts’ field and learned how a combine works.  

This year the Pratt kids, Ethan and Natalie planted popcorn.  While the combine has been busy picking the popcorn in the field, Ethan and Natalie would come home from school, have a snack and then head to their popcorn patch to pick the ears by hand.  They spent a long time husking the corn in the shed.  Coco, the farm dog, even helps once in awhile.

But not every day on the farm is all about corn.  One afternoon, Natalie, Ms. Pratt and I went to their grandparents’ farm to pick apples.  I decided to climb the tree. We brought home boxes of apples and made applesauce, apple pies and other apple treats. 

Now that the seed corn and soybeans are picked, the family focuses on harvesting field corn.  Field corn is also called dent corn and is the type of corn planted most in Illinois.  Illinois ranks #2 in corn production in the United States.  Field corn is used for a variety of different things – feed for animals, fuel for cars, fiber and food.  

 You can’t eat field corn right off the cob, like sweet corn, but once the kernels are cooked down and separated into sugar, oil and starch, corn is used in all sorts of food products from soda pop to corn flakes, granola bars, candy, corn meal and so much more.  Corn oil is used to make plastic and corn starch is used in fuel filters found in NASCAR race cars.  

The combine now has the corn head attached.  As the combine moves through the field, it strips the cob from the corn stalk and shells the corn so that all that is left are the yellow kernels.  See all the dust flying from the back of the combine.  That’s all the leaves, stalk, husk and other “trash” coming out of the combine and back on to the field.  Even though this is called trash, it has a very important job.  It will break down during the winter adding nutrients back into the field and keeps the soil from blowing away when the winter and spring winds start to gust.  

All of their corn is stored in grain bins. They have three bins that will hold 600,000 thousand bushels of corn.  That’s a lot of corn!

During harvest every day finishes with dinner in the field.  On this night, we enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, apple salad and pumpkin cupcakes.  

Wow! I’m exhausted! This was a busy trip, but so interesting and so much fun!
Until next time,
Flat Aggie

Katie was even sweet enough to send the classes a box of corn samples.  They got to see decorative corn, field corn and even popcorn that they could pop in the microwave.  They loved the hands on part of that activity!

Be sure to check out Flat Aggie's other adventures.-KFM

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