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The Iowa Agriculturist

Harvesting: Corn

The handling of corn is one of the toughest jobs on the farm. For many farmers, it's hard to imagine how corn could be harvested without the sophisticated machinery of today.

A hundred years ago, corn harvesting required more labor than any other farm crop. Corn was used not only for grain, but the stalk and leaves made good feed for horses, cattle, and sheep.

Farmers had to chop down the cornstalks one at a time, and stack them in shocks to dry. A field of shocks, like hundreds of teepees in straight rows, was a magnificent sight.

But this was not all. After the stalks had dried, they were loaded on wagons and taken to the farmstead. Then they were shucked by hand or by machine. Some parts went into the barn for livestock, while the ears were moved to a corncrib for further drying.

Two boys husking corn by hand.

Sometimes the corn was shucked in the field from standing stalks. The ears were stripped from the stalk and tossed into a wagon, which was slowly moved through the field. This greatly increased the farmer's workload and was a terrible task.

As machines were invented, the time needed to harvest corn was lessened. Also, farmers could grow more corn without increasing the workload too much. Early machines took over cutting and bundling of stalks but left a lot of handwork such as hauling and shucking to the farmer.

The corn harvester cuts and shocks corn.

From: Explorations in Iowa History Project, Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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