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The Last Windrow: Stories about selling seed corn shared

Would there be any more optimistic person than a seed corn salesman? I think not.

Each year around this time or before, these folks make calls on farmers who may be a bit suspicious of the sales pitch. Most of them have long ago tired of hearing about bumper yields and high protein corn. Farmers know that once those bags of seed corn arrive, it is all up to them and the weather to produce.

Once a seed is in the ground, you can't dig it back out. There are no money-back refunds.

Our Iowa farm was annually visited by seed corn salespeople. Usually these were neighboring farmers looking to earn a little extra cash. They used the past friendship with the farmer to open the door a crack to a possible sale.

The salesmen would saunter onto the farmyard and try to catch the farmer between chores. Their sales pitch was held back until they had asked about the farmer's wife, kids and farm dog. How was the pheasant hunting last fall? Sorry to hear about your brother-in-law's passing last December. How many cows are you milking these days?

All questions that had nothing to do with seed corn, but questions that were meant to soften the eventual sales pitch.

If you had purchased seed corn from any particular salesman last year, you might even receive some kind of premium. I still have a Funks G seed corn rain gauge hanging in my basement that was given to me by my Uncle Len, who sold seed corn for many years. Sometimes the farmer received a yard stick, a tape measure or a ballpoint pen with the salesperson's name stamped on the side.

Our farm was visited by a Crow Seed Corn salesman one winter day long ago. He asked if he could erect a Crow Seed Corn sign at the edge of our property. In lieu of any cash changing hands, he made a deal with my dad to provide Clyde with a new pair of bib overalls once each year. It was a gift that kept on giving.

Dad never did purchase a bag of Crow Seed Corn, but the bib overalls kept coming until the sign fell to earth. By then it was filled with holes caused by my .22 rifle. It made a great target.

Seed corn used to be sold by the bushel. Nowadays it's sold by the seed. Times have changed. We planted in wide rows. Today a human can't fit between the rows. Our two-row planter took almost a day to plant a 20-acre field. Today, 24 rows are planted in one pass.

I doubt you could turn many of the new style planters around in most of our historic fields. And the seed corn is not cheap.

One year my Uncle Len was introducing a "single cross" seed corn. It was new on the scene. The seed cost more than the older breeds of seed. Uncle Len never did make a sale of "single cross" corn to my dad. There was a hesitance to believe that the extra cost would produce one extra ear of corn.

Results down the road proved it to be true and soon "single cross" corn was all that was sold. It takes some time sometimes to make progress on the farm.

A wealthy farmer showed up on our farmstead one day selling seed corn. This farmer had a large house, a thousand acres of Iowa farmland and drove a brand new, high-priced car. He approached my dad with a seed corn hat in his hand and an order blank. There were no cordialities exchanged. The well-heeled neighbor proceeded to give his pitch to a farmer who wouldn't look him in the eye.

At the end of the pitch the farmer said, "I wouldn't buy a kernel of corn from you. Why don't you leave some other poor soul sell seed corn who can really use the money?"

End of conversation. The bright, new Oldsmobile smoked out of the driveway never to return.

There are politics involved in selling seed corn. I've seen it. That time of year is here or has already passed. Get that corn in the ground! Be optimistic.

You might even get a new pair of overalls if you play your cards right!

See you next time. Okay?

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