Lawtons’ 46th corn crop is smiles-high on the 4th of July! We continue our 20-year tradition.


COOPER, Iowa, July 4, 2023 – Oh, it looks so good right now – at 9-feet high, maybe higher, lush, thick, so green. But as I often hear my No. 1 farm pal Doug Lawton say, “You never know.”

Who would have predicted a “derecho” on Aug. 10, 2020, causing the Lawtons to plow under 75 percent of a corn crop that had looked great on that July 4th?  And causing catastrophic damage to their farmstead.

You never know.

But on this Independence Day, Doug Lawton is a happy, smiling farmer.  He has just planted his 46th crop, almost without a hiccup, and it looks good if not great. 

Doug and Karen Lawton on Sunday evening, July 2, surrounded by very tall corn and sprouting grandchildren, too. From left, counter-clockwise are, Natalie Towers, Wesley Nailor, Maggie Nailor, and Nathan Towers with little brother Noah Towers on his shoulders.

Here they were standing in the 2022 corn crop on July 3.

He’s 68, Karen is 65, they’re in good health, meaning his bum knee “isn’t any worse than it’s been for years,” and Doug figures they’ll have a few more good years of farming ahead of them.

Four or five generations of Lawtons have been farming in southern Greene County in the west central part of Iowa for well over a century.  For decades, they were known mainly for their cattle – marketing up to 10,000 head per year back in the 1970s, before that market collapsed on them. Doug and Karen have been grain farmers ever since, and this year have planted about 1,350 acres, split about evenly between corn and soybeans.

They planted their first crop in 1978 after finishing at ol’ Westmar College in LeMars, then Doug teaching and coaching a year.

“That’s 45 years ago, I guess,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it at all.”

How much has farming changed?

“Almost completely,” he said. “When I started farming, our tractors didn’t have cabs.”

There’s been wash-outs, droughts, the Farm Crisis of the early 1980s, two derechos, but way more good years than bad.

He’s seen corn prices swing from as low as $1.50 per bushel, up just over $8.  Prices for soybeans have ranged from $4.18 per bushel in 1999 to $17.58 in 2012.

“Technology is the big thing that’s kicked in over my years,” he said, “and of course, our costs are all so much higher, too.”

Doug and Karen Lawton this week.

He can remember paying less than $50 per bag for seed corn to plant, and it’s now more than $300 per bag.   A bag of soybeans now sells for about $65, although buying beans that are already treated with to stop weeds and disease can add $25 per bag.  And as you’ve probably noticed, most farmers today are having their seed delivered in large crates that hold the equivalent of 45 bags of soybeans.

Using “precision ag,” which means having his fields and inputs all programmed on computers, “makes everything much more precise than it was when I started,” he said. “That saves seed, lets us use fewer chemicals and is better for soil health.”

Planting this crop started April 13 for the Lawtons, who use Hoegemeyer Hybrids, a company based in little Hooper, Nebraska. 

“We got rained out on the 14th, were out a few days, then came back and went right through it,” Doug said. “We finished May 4.”

First corn, then soybeans?

“Yeah, I’m probably a little bit old-school that way,” he said. “Some guys plant beans first, thinking they get more hours of sunlight on them and more growth.  And if you get a cold stretch, beans won’t be hurt as much as early corn would be.  But to me, planting corn first seems more natural, and I don’t want to hit a real wet spring and not get it planted until June.” That’s happened, and he recalls once planting right up to the 4th of July.

The corn crop now?  “I think it’s looking pretty good. We still don’t have a lot of subsoil moisture, but we’ve had timely rains, and if we keep having a few of those, it’s going to be a good crop.  You know, it does seem to me that corn can handle drought-stress much better now than it did 20 to 30 years ago.”

It’s had a good early start. 

Grandson Nathan Towers, 14, of Jefferson, comes to the Lawton farm every morning to take care of his 4H calves.  He walked out in the fields and checked the Lawton corn this past weekend, and found a first tassel.  He showed me how when you first spot a tassel, you can pull it out of the stalk, with tender leaves still rolled around it. 

“You unroll those leaves off the tassel, and for each leaf you take off, it means two more days until it completely tassels out,” Nathan explained.

How’d he know that?

 “I learned it on TikTok,” he answered, in a salute to the social medium I hadn’t yet recognized as an effective farm tool.

Doug Lawton with one of those first tassels.


“I think they look a little shorter than usual,” said Doug. “Oh, they look decent, and have good color, but they don’t look like growing quite as fast as usual. They haven’t yet closed the rows like they usually would be now.”

Huh? “Closed the rows”?

“That’s what you call it if you have 30-inch rows, and the soybean plants get so thick you can’t see dirt anymore.”

So, what are farmers talking about now?

“Normally, this time of year it’s all about the weather,” he said, “but that’s a guess. I haven’t been hanging out with many farmers lately. Seems like I’m always at a ball game. 

“Let’s see, we’re doing a new farm bill, as you know, but those aren’t talked about as much as they used to be.  There’s also some talk about foreign ownership of farm land, but I don’t hear a lot of that happening in Iowa.”

With all the emphasis on the development and roll-out of electric-powered cars and trucks, is there concern about the future of ethanol? And actually, about the future of corn production, too?

Lawton Farms headquarters for more than a century.

“I’m not sure how well they’ll fit our lives in Iowa,” Doug said. “I can’t picture us getting in an electric vehicle, taking off to Lincoln, Nebraska, or somewhere else to watch our grandson Cooper Nailor play basketball, and having to stop halfway to wait for re-charging.

“But things do change.  Think about when computers first came out.  People used them, but they didn’t really change our lives – at first.  Now we’re all carrying one around in our cell phones, and using them for almost everything. 

“So, if it happens that way with electric vehicles, it could have a huge impact on ethanol and corn.  But maybe we’ll also be finding other uses of corn that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

You never know.

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