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Strong winds blow away optimism for corn crop

This year’s corn crop was looking pretty good in the area.

Then strong winds that wreaked havoc on eastern Nebraska last month blew away that optimism.

“Everybody was really happy with their crop before the wind, and now they’re not,” said Brian Cornwell, location manager at Country Partners Cooperative in Cedar Rapids.

Cornwell said the corn harvest is behind schedule in that area, but producers seem more concerned about yield losses brought on by the strong winds that broke cornstalks and knocked ears to the ground than they are about playing catch-up.

“Every farmer coming in is complaining about it being down,” Cornwell said of yields. “We’re probably a 20- to 100-bushel loss (per acre).”

It’s the same story across the area.

Aaron Nygren, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator in Colfax 

County, said he’s heard reports of 40- to 50-bushel losses per acre because of the persistent winds.

“It’s really caused some problems out there,” he said. “The losses are starting to add up as far as the (stalk) lodging and ears dropping on the ground.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop report released Monday puts 19 percent of the state’s corn in excellent condition, 45 percent in good shape and 23 percent in fair condition.

Nygren said those figures would have swung even further toward the high end prior to the wind damage.

“The stuff that was going to be really, really good corn is now average corn,” he said.

Willis Smith, a field sales agronomist at Central Valley Ag in Shelby, also noted that standability is the biggest concern for what corn remains in the field. He’s received reports of 15-20 percent losses from farmers because of the wind.

“The corn is excellent, if it could just keep standing,” he said.

The USDA report shows 68 percent of the state's corn crop has been harvested, well behind last year's pace of 82 percent and the five-year average of 81 percent.

The state’s soybean harvest is pretty much in the books for 2017, with roughly 95 percent of the crop in the bin.

Cornwell said farmers in the Cedar Rapids area reported yields around 70 bushels per acre.

“Everybody was pretty happy with their yields,” he said.

The same was true around Shelby.

“They were good, but they weren’t quite where they were last year,” Smith said of soybean yields there while noting some lodging issues with that crop as well.

Still, Nygren said it will be a “really tight” year financially for Nebraska farmers, particularly those who didn’t contract to sell their crops when prices were a bit higher.

“The cash price right now has to be below their cost of production,” he said.

Area cooperatives are paying around $3.10 per bushel for corn and $8.90 for soybeans, and Nygren said there are no signs those numbers will go up anytime soon.

That will make the damage to many cornfields even more painful.

“That loss might have been the difference between making money and not,” Nygren said.

Daughters follow mother into cosmetology

It all started with Erin Rose, who graduated from Joseph's College in 2013.

Little did she know at that time, her two daughters would soon be following in her footsteps.

Alixandra Pena graduated from the Norfolk college in 2015 and her younger sister Elisa Pena is scheduled to graduate in early 2018.

Mom set the tone for her daughters. Erin was always practicing on their hair, and they liked what they saw her doing.

The Schuyler family enjoys the diverse culture the town offers and knows the importance of being trained in all hair types.

A salon is in the family's plans and when Elisa graduates, they'll be ready to put that plan in action.

Erin offers this advice for people interested in the profession: "We are not born cosmetologists. If it were that easy, anyone could do it. We wouldn't have to go to school to learn all the complexities of our craft. Stick with it and it will definitely pay off. Luckily, my family chose Joseph's College to get started. It's an amazing career."

Local church helping with global project

Sunday school students at First Presbyterian Church gathered for a different kind of class last weekend.

The youths learned a lesson in generosity through Operation Christmas Child.

This marks the third year the local church has served as a drop-off site for Operation Christmas Child. The project, part of Samaritan’s Purse, collects shoeboxes filled with toys, schools supplies and hygiene items to send to children in need.

“There are children in the world who are less fortunate than we are,” Kris Wilch told the Sunday school class. “So today we will be filling up boxes with toys to be sent all over the world to give someone a special Christmas.”

Wilch reminded the class that while members of the community may also be in need, there are local toy and food drives to help those closer to home.

“Anyone in town can fill up a shoebox," Wilch said. “We are not the only church or organization in town that can do this. We are only the drop-off site, just as we were last year.”

First Presbyterian Church is one of roughly 5,000 drop-off sites in the United States and Puerto Rico. Samaritan’s Purse will begin collecting the boxes Nov. 13-20 to be shipped around the world.

A total of 159 boxes were collected through the church last year, a number Wilch hopes to top this year.

“Twenty-seven boxes were donated by our congregation last year,” Wilch said. “The rest came from the community and we are all so grateful for the help.”

The boxes can be gender- and age-specific. Items not allowed are candy, toothpaste and used or damaged items. War-related toys such as toy guns, knives or any military figures are also prohibited.

Virtual shoeboxes may also be filled through

Kayla Wolf, Lincoln Journal Star 

A Pawnee County farmer transfers corn to be transported to storage in mid-October. Nebraska farmers are behind schedule for the corn harvest and facing yield losses because of wind damage.

Last homesteader's tractor almost ready in Beatrice

BEATRICE — Its plowing days are long gone, but a dormant tractor rescued from the Alaskan wilderness will live on in Beatrice at Homestead National Monument of America.

But this isn't just any Allis-Chalmers Model C tractor.

There were around 4 million claims for free land filed under the Homestead Act of 1862 in 123 years. This tractor belonged to the man who was the final homesteader.

Ken Deardorff bought the tractor when he moved to his homestead in the Alaskan wilderness in 1974.

Last year, the Friends of Homestead started an online fundraising campaign to bring the tractor to Nebraska, where University of Nebraska students have been preparing it for display.

Josh Bauer, president of UNL's tractor restoration club, said the project has been a unique and challenging one.

When the club typically receives a decaying tractor, it's completely stripped down, sand blasted, repainted and comes out looking brand new. There was a different plan for the last homesteader's tractor.

"We didn't want to alter the paint in any way," Bauer said. "We didn't want to alter any of the looks of the tractor in any way. We're used to doing full-on restorations where it's a complete tear down. Doing a preservation rather than a restoration was kind of a new challenge for us."

The tractor was cleaned with mineral spirits and denatured alcohol to kill bacteria and black mold.

The rotting wood seat was put back together and period-correct spark plug wires were added to replace those that were missing.

The tractor will not be brought to running condition. Bauer said this is partially because it will end up at Homestead, where displays can't have fluids like gas or oil. Even if it was allowed, he said the tractor has deep mechanical problems, including a cracked engine block, that would make it impossible, or extremely expensive, to get the tractor running again.

One of the biggest additions to the tractor was new medal stands on casters. This allows the display to be easily moved, and also takes weight of the tractor's own wheels and tires.

The last homesteader was a 29-year-old Vietnam War veteran from California. The Homestead Act was still two years away from being repealed -- though the Alaskan repeal was 10 years away, due to its late addition to the United States. Deardorff staked a claim and settled on 80 acres about 200 miles from Anchorage and nearly 50 miles from the nearest town.

Using his tractor, Deardorff cleared a forest to grow his crops -- mostly hays and grasses, as those were the only things that would grow in the climate. The tractor was his most important tool.

When he left the Alaskan homestead ten years after starting it, the tractor was left sitting outside for the next 30 years. Officials from Homestead Monument learned about the tractor and were determined to bring it to Beatrice.

Doug Koozer, who oversees the tractor restoration club, was one of five people who went to Alaska to get the tractor.

It was extensively photographed before being moved to a clearing. They called in a helicopter to lift the tractor to Big Lake, Alaska, where a crate was custom built for it. It was put on a barge to Anchorage, then onto a ship to Seattle before being trucked to Beatrice.

It was a lot of work to put in for a 72-year-old tractor that had been abandoned in the wilderness, but the experience was worth every second for Koozer.

"Until you hear the story about what it is and the historical significance, it's just an old tractor," he said. "You can see 50 of them around here, but when you start throwing the history to it as to what it is, where it's been and what they did with it, then it's a whole different story. I would guess most of these kids in this generation have no idea what the Homestead Act is. They're all now aware of what it is because of that tractor."

Mark Engler, Homestead park superintendent, said the preservation is nearly complete and a public unveiling is planned for Nov. 20. He said excitement at Homestead has been building, and both staff and visitors are eager to see the tractor and what it represents.

"This represents the end of an era," Engler said. "When people think about homesteading it's easy for them to think about single bottom plows being pulled by horses. Something that not often comes to mind is the use of tractors. This makes the story for many people more relevant."