Get Thee To The Fields, Young 'Uns #WalkingBeans

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After reading Modern Farmer's piece on the young corn detasslers of the Midwest, I was reminded of this related story from earlier in the summer out of the Iowa City Press-Citizen(Click through for a video.)

In Iowa, there's an old tradition of walking beans, the summertime practice of walking through verdant bean fields pulling weeds by hand. Parents of today's teenagers may have performed this sweaty, back-breaking, bug-infested task. But the last few cohorts of rural youth have likely not, unless their parents were organic farmers.

In the advent of herbicide-resistant superweeds, which are plaguing farms of all sorts around the country, Iowan farmers are considering bringing back the practice as their trusty weed-killers have proved useless against certain unwanted plants.

"The economics don't work" for conventional farmers, Hartzler said. "I couldn't tell you how many hours it would take" to hand-weed a field, he said.

Organic farmers can pay up to $200 an acre for hand-weeding, but they typically get double or more than conventional prices for chemical-free corn and soybeans. And they escape the expense of genetically modified seed and herbicides.

Paying $100 an acre for weeding works when farmers get $30 a bushel for soybeans, organic farmers say.

"If you're organic, you can't farm thousands of acres. But you can farm 300 acres and make a good living," said Paul Mugge, a northwest Iowa organic farmer in O'Brien County. He grows about 100 acres of organic beans each year.

Mugge pays high school students, based on the grade they'll be going into that fall. For example, students who will be seniors this year get $12 an hour, and freshmen, $9.

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"The romanticism of walking beans ends after about 15 minutes. Then it's work," said Lehman, whose son and daughter are among the students helping him weed his fields.