How Thomas Campbell Has Revolutionized Grain Harvesting Methods on His 150,000-Acre Farm
First published in the Hysham Echo on August 26, 1926
(By Thomas Campbell)
We have developed a new method of harvesting and threshing which is quite the biggest thing we have ever done. It is, I believe, almost as revolutionary as the invention of the binder and will do more to solve the great economic problem of farm labor than any method which has been developed since the invention of the harvestor. It, like many other improvements in operating efficiency, goes back to the original ideas, and we now take the grain from a common windrow such as was originally produced with the old-fashioned cradles, and harvest it with a moving threshing machine. The modern binder as invented by Deering and McCormick was a development of the old cradle whereby the grain was first cut and deposited in windrows. Later this grain was bound in bundles with what was known as a self-binder, later a bundle carrier was attached to the binder, so that the bundles could be deposited in bundle-rows, and finally a shocking device was invented which took eight to ten of these bundles, stood them on end, bound a twine around the entire number and set them up in the field, already shocked, for the threshing machines, moved onto the field and these bundles were collected by horses and wagons with racks, and hauled to the machine for threshing. In recent years shock loading machines have been used to load these shocks, until the modern threshing machine is almost an entirely mechanical operation, with very little manual labor.
The New MethodThe new method takes us back to the original windrows and the moving harvester, operated by three men, does the work of 28 and 30 horses. And, in addition, it eliminates three of the four men on each binder string. The twine necessary to tie the bundles and the cost of shocking the bundles is also eliminated at a total saving of approximately two dollars per acre. It costs about four dollars per acre to take the grain from the standing field and deposit in the grain box. It costs two dollars an acre to achieve the same results under the new method.
Suitable to Any Size FarmHeretofore most of our improvements and new ideas have been for use on large farms only, but this new method of harvesting and threshing is even more applicable to the small farm than the large farm, and the farmer with 640 acres of land can save enough in one year to buy a combine harvester and other equipment necessary to do the work on a farm of that size. A farmer with 160 acres of land can save enough in four years to pay for the equipment, and most of this equipment can be purchased on four years time by responsible farmers. I have discussed our new method with representatives of our state agricultural colleges, with M. M. L. Wilson, head of the bureau of Farm Economics in the Department of Agriculture, and they feel that this will do more to reduce the operating costs and solve the great economic problem of farm labor than anything which has been developed in many years.
Solving the Labor ProblemThe farm labor situation has always been a serious problem in harvest time, as the farmer has required a great many additional men for a short period during the harvest and threshing seasons. This has always been accompanied by hard work and anxiety on the part of the farmers and has been particularly hard on the farmer’s wife, who has had to provide and care for these extra crews. In many instance the extra labor has been supplied by the floating type, which is not very responsible, and they often leave the farmer when he needs them most. With this new method fewer men will be required in harvest and threshing time than were formerly needed to shock the grain or to care for the hay. We find that the grain can be cut a day or so earlier, that it matures better than in the shock, that it can be threshed in less time after cutting and under normal conditions threshing will be completed within two or three weeks for the custom machine to come around and thresh the grain risking meanwhile all of the hazards which may come from unfavorable weather. It increases the output per man and consequently makes the possible increase in his pay. I feel that with modern machine methods, scientific farming and industrial management the American farmer can still compete with foreign competitors the same as the American manufacturers are doing in other lines of industry.
Accomplishes Big SavingAssuming that fifty million acres of grain were harvested with this method, although the United States each year farms a hundred million, the saving on the fifty million would be one hundred million dollars. We are using it on twenty-five thousand acres this year.
What Has Been AccomplishedThe accomplishments that have been typical of the Campbell farm are very ably set forth in an article by Malcolm Cutting, appearing in a recent issue of the Country Gentleman. Mr. Cutting says, in part:
“The Campbell Farming Corporation consists of 95,000 acres of leased land, all fenced, on the Crow Indian reservation in Southern Montana. At one time, when the war call was for wheat, it consisted of 150,000 acres of land, of which 100,000 acres was plowed.
“Started eight years ago, for seven years - 1920 to 1926 inclusive - it has averaged 40,000 acres a year in crop, mostly winter wheat, with nearly as much more land plowed and summer-fallowed.
“This year there are 48,000 acres in crop. Next year it is planned to have 64,000 acres in crop, which will be the maximum crop production when the whole 95,000 acres is under cultivation.
“For three years, 1919 to 1921 inclusive, Campbell lost money on his operations. In each of the past four years, 1922 to 1925 inclusive, with the most rigid of factory accounting systems, he made money on his operations. How many wheat farmers can say as much?
“One year he raised a 500,000-bushel crop. Twice he has raised 400,000 bushels. Next year, if conditions are favorable, he hopes to attain his ambition of 1,000,000 bushels. It will require only a trifle over 15 bushels per acre on 64,000 acres to produce that crop.
“To operate this enormous acreage he uses about fifty tractors, most of them of the largest size, using over 4,500 gallons of gasoline a day when operating at full capacity. Other machinery is of equal proportions. There isn’t a horse or horse-drawn implement on the place, nor ever has been, except a few teams previously hired to haul bundles at threshing time.
Two World’s Records Broken“The labor force consists of about twenty permanent men, an average of fifty-eight during eight months of the year, and 250 at the busiest harvest season. On the basis of this year’s crop, that means one man to 1,500 acres of plowed land, crop and summer fallow, during most of the eight working months of the year, and one man to 300 acres at the busiest season.
“In 1924 two worlds’ records were broken on this farm. With fifteen tractors hauling gang plows and disks, followed by three five-drill seeder outfits with packers, 640 acres were plowed, disked seeded and packed in one day of sixteen hours, without a single stop for mechanical trouble of any kind. Even the gasoline was fed to the engines from moving tanks while they were operating. That was a record for the number of engines employed.
“In the same year, with one stationary threshing outfit, 4,321 bushels of wheat were threshed and cleaned in one day of fourteen hours. This is still a record, and was made possible by a yield of twenty-eight bushels per acre on one piece of 1,000 acres.
“With the equipment now in use, it is possible to plow 1,000 acres, seed 2,000 acres or harvest 2,000 acres in one day. Campbell has originated a new system of harvesting and threshing, by improving the use of a combine, the most revolutionary advance in grain farming since the invention of the binder.
“There is a storage capacity on the farm, in metal grain bins, for 110,000 bushels of grain. At Hardin, the nearest town, there is a private elevator with additional capacity for 50,000 bushels.
“Campbell is now planning to acquire large tracts of wheat land in other states, to divide such weather hazards as still remain in his scheme of farming, and combine them all in a great industrial farming corporation. He has already been approached to take over the operation of one of the famous bonanza farms of Western Canada that failed during the trying times following the war.
“Don’t imagine, from all the foregoing, that Tom Campbell is just another of those “efficiency engineers” who is trying out his theories in a new field, and knows nothing about practical farming. He was raised on a North Dakota farm, has been a farmer all his life, and would be a mighty good one if his success depended only on his agricultural knowledge, without the addition of his industrial engineering skill.
“Looking at his operations strictly from an impartial viewpoint, there can be no question that he has presented a challenge to the agricultural standpatters and pessimists that they will find hard to answer. Granted that most of the bonanza farms of the past have failed, was the fault with the bonanza farm or with the bonanza farmer?
“Certain it is, with the exception of the invention of Labor-saving arm machinery, and the newer possibilities of co-operative marketing, there have been no great fundamental changes in our farming methods, as there have been in American industrial methods, since our forefathers wielded the sickle and the flail.
(Cont. next week)