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Technology Accelerates

During Norm's childhood, agriculture changed from subsistence farming to farming with a potential for profit. This was due to the introduction of tractors, hybrid seeds, better roads, agriculture education, electricity and improved communications. 

Agriculture Advances

1917- Smith Hughes Act establishes vocational agriculture programs. Because Norm was allowed to attend high school, due to the influence of his cousin and teacher, Sina Borlaug, he was able to participate in these Vocational Agriculture classes. The main purpose of this act was to introduce young men to modern farming techniques that they could take home to their fathers in the hope that they would be put into practice. One of the things Norm was exposed to was the use of fertilizer.

"During the spring of 1929 Norm encountered agricultural science, thanks to a newly appointed Vocational Agriculture teacher. Fresh from Iowa State College, Harry Shroder was a fertilizer believer." (Vietmeyer)

1918 - "After years of investigating tractor production, Deere buys the maker of Waterloo Boy tractors. The tractor will soon become the company's basic product. Though 5,634 Waterloo Boys are sold this year, Ford Motor Company sells more than 34,000 Fordson tractors." The Borlaugs first tractor was a Fordson. Learn more about John Deere History

1920s - Radio and telephones come to rural America. These early radios and telephones were battery powered. The Borlaugs, like most farm families, had a radio that they listened to for entertainment, news and weather. Learn more about Early Radios           
1924 - Henry Wallace, an Iowan, was a key person in the development of hybrid seed corn. Hybrid seeds increased production and enabled farmers to move from subsistence farming to producing a surplus which could be sold for a profit. In 1924, Wallace's Copper Cross hybrid corn won the gold medal in the Corn Yield Contest at Iowa State.  Learn more about Henry Wallace

1928 - The first paved highway came to the area, Highway 63.
1929 - Saude area farmers learn of a hybrid seed that can produce as much as 100 bushels to the acre.  

1929  - Henry Borlaug's steel-wheeled Fordson tractor arrives.

"In time, inspired engineers devised a corn-picking mechanism that could be fastened to a tractor's power take-off. With a tractor shouldering the brutal burdens corn picking seemed almost a lark." (Vietmeyer)

"Norm's dad sowed the whole 100 acres to hybrid corn, and he incorporated fertilizer. He fired up the tractor to till the soil and attack the weeds. Each acre yielded 52 bushels, more than double the previous best. Henry Borlaug stashed away a cash reserve and began experiencing the good life." (Vietmeyer)

1930 - The Depression comes to Iowa.


( from Vietmeyer, Noel. Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, Bracing Books., Lorton, VA, 2011.)

Credit, Rural Electrification Image - TVA Web Team, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Additional Resources

"Every Iowa farm boy loved WGN, which broadcast the Chicago Cubs on summer afternoons. What a joy! After unloading a wagonload of hay I'd dash inside for a drink of water and a chance to catch the score. The Cubs then becam a major part of my being. Deep down, I knew that one day I'd be their second base." (Vietmeyer)

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