(Bremen, IN) - Harvesting corn by hand is not done at many farms anymore, but what some describe as "human combines" will be showcasing their skills.
Legend has it, farmers, before the invention of modern harvesting machines, were like a blur in how fast they could strip an ear and toss it into a horse-drawn wagon before husking the next ear from the stalk.
Rolland Miller said he’s not sure if they were that fast, but he can husk an ear about every two seconds.
The Indiana Corn Husking Association will host its annual state contest on October 2 at the Geyer Dairy Farm in Bremen.
As many as 100 or more participants, young and old, will begin husking at 9 AM. The competition for cash prizes ends at 3 PM.
“It’s kind of what we call a living history where you get to kind of step back in time,” Miller said.
People will compete in age groups and work between the rows. They have 20 minutes to husk as many ears as possible from their designated areas while youth and people 75 and over are given 10 minutes.
Miller, treasurer of the ICHA, said winners are determined by the total weight of the ears minus the weight of the ears remaining on each stalk. Points are also deducted for any ears not stripped clean enough.
“It does pay to clean the corn but you can’t waste too much time getting it too clean. Otherwise, it goes against you,” Miller explained.
The contest is no small potatoes in terms of the ability of participants. Two years ago, Ted Richard of Rochester, after taking first place in his class, returned with a title from the national championships in Nebraska.
“He was probably averaging 38 to 40 ears a minute. To do that for 20 minutes, that’s hauling,” said Miller.
Anyone is eligible to take part in the competition. Miller and his brother, Arlen, have qualified for the national tournament the past several years.
A peg, thumb hook, and other handheld devices can be used to help strip the ears. Gloves can also be worn.
“There are different ways of trying to put a tool in your hand to assist in trying to get that husk off as fast as possible,” Miller said.
Miller, who lives near LaPaz, is not a farmer. Instead, he learned to husk as a child from his grandfather, who was a farmer.
The contest will be on the farm of Clay Geyer, who has 12 acres of his 200 acres of corn reserved for the competition held annually since 2012 to help keep alive the tradition. Geyer, president of the ICHA, said the number of contestants had grown each year.
“We’ve actually got quite a few younger huskers,” Geyer said.
Geyer, who’s also competed at the national level, said a key to fast husking is throwing the stripped ears over your shoulder into the wagon while keeping your eyes on the stalk to reach for another ear.
Non-stop husking is not an easy task. Fatigue, especially in the arms, can set in during the final minutes. In addition, cuts from the edges of husks no longer soft after turning brown can add to the physical challenge.
“You’re pretty well worn out after 20 minutes if you’re hitting it hard,” Geyer said.
Geyer said encouragement from several hundred onlookers and desire for good-natured bragging rights helps keep the huskers going. He and others also enjoy the camaraderie from people with a common thread being amongst each other.
“It’s a good outdoor family event. We just have fun with it,” Geyer said.
The cost of entering the contest ranges from $5 to $20.