Aldie resident C. Dale Poland grew up around tractors and the farming way of life, so it was no surprise when he took after his father and his grandfather.
"It’s something that gets in your blood. Ask any farmer that," Poland said. "I tell people if you don’t like it, don’t do it."
Poland likes watching things grow and seeing the seasons change. He likes hearing the corn crack as the wind blows. As he works from morning to dusk during the peaks of planting and harvesting time, he watches for bugs and weeds.
"You just don’t go out there and plant it," said Poland, a 1969 Loudoun County High School graduate. "Things can happen to it."
Poland referred to the corn, wheat, soybeans and hay that he raises, in addition to the 75 head of beef cattle and the calves he keeps. The 52-year-old leases 1,500 acres of land here and there in Philomont, Upperville, Middleburg and some in Aldie, where he grew up. He got a call late last year from the Farm Bureau about completing a term on the Virginia Corn Board.
"I don’t know if I’m all that good," Poland said.
"You raise corn, don’t you?" came from the other end.
"Well, put my name in," he said. "If you can’t get no one else, put my name on there."
On Dec. 30, Gov. Mark Warner (D) announced that he was appointing Poland to the Virginia Corn Board, which funds research projects and promotes the use of corn, something Poland knows about.
IN 1899, Poland’s great-grandfather started a custom work business on a farm he purchased in Chantilly, using his own thrasher to thrash wheat for other farmers in the summer and cutting wood in the winter with a sawmill he had on the farm. Poland’s uncle starting working on the farm in the 1940s, later purchasing the land to operate a dairy there and selling it in the 1960s.
In the early 1950s, Poland’s father Curtis Poland bought the thrasher and used it for 10 years before upgrading to a combine when labor was hard to get. He purchased the combine, which cuts and thrashes a variety of crops, from Virginia Beef and operated it on the company’s large farming operation.
Poland worked with his father in the 1970s until the 1980s when Curtis retired, then went on his own. By then, he was living in Aldie, where he moved with his wife of 30 years, Shirley, after they married. He started off raising corn, later expanding to wheat, soybeans and hay on land he leased in the Aldie area and where South Riding is now located.
"I didn’t want to put my eggs in one basket, so I started diversifying a little bit," Poland said. "Corn was bringing in good money in the ‘70s. … Right now, corn is pretty good because we had a drought last summer."
The drought pushed up the price of corn to about $3 a bushel. In the 1980s, the same bushel could be contracted for $3.50. Whatever the price, 1 cent of it is a tax dedicated to the Virginia Corn Board, which meets twice a year for business and to review and fund research projects related to corn production. The board has 15 members, including corn producers, marketers and consumers.
"Virginia is a corn-deficient state. We use more corn than we raise," said Poland, who is completing a term that ends in June 2004.
"The biggest thing [Poland] brings to the board is common sense and an excellent understanding of corn production and corn usage," Hornbaker said.
"They probably couldn’t pick a better person," said Steve Jones, field sales representative for Marshall Farmers’ Coop in Marshall. "Dale’s an extremely good farmer. He does the things you need to do to get a good crop."
POLAND HAS 500 ACRES of corn, 400 acres of hay and a couple hundred acres of soybeans, along with 20 acres of wheat, since that was all he could plant in October on ground that was too wet.
With hired help of four to five people, Poland typically plants corn in the spring around April 15 when the fields are dry enough for fertilizing and liming, a technique used to neutralize the acid in the soil. A month later, he usually plants soybeans and starts producing hay by cutting off long grasses and letting them dry out in the sun. He harvests the wheat at the end of June or early July, using a combine.
"The combine is a fascinating machine," Poland said. "It cleans that stuff off. It’s amazing how you can get what you want."
In July, the work slows down, so Poland prepares for fall and does any needed maintenance work. At the end of August or early September, he starts cutting the corn for feed. And in October, he is planting again.
"During planting time, you don’t come home until it’s dark unless it rains. If it rains, you get a break," Poland said. "Same with harvesting."
Farming changes with the season, Poland said, adding that if he does not like one aspect of the work, he will be doing something different the next day. The times, too, have brought changes to his business. "It’s not as fun as it used to be," he said. "In the last 15 years, Loudoun County has changed. It’s gone from an agricultural community to high tech."
Poland used to be able to move his equipment any time of the day but now is limited to driving or hauling it from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. "That hurts because you lose a lot of time you could be working," he said. "People who move out here don’t understand why you’re out there."
"As Loudoun farming declines, it’s nice he is carrying on the tradition of the Poland family," said Gary Hornbaker, agricultural program manager for the county. "Dale is one of the last ones down at the southern end of the county to continue on with traditional
At the same time, Dale "continually tries to stay on top of the latest technology, and I have to admire him for that. He’s always looking for new ways … and technologies for producing agricultural crops," Hornbaker said.