In his second year as the farmer responsible for providing the corn that decorates Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction, Brett Lowrie is getting the hang of it all.
Despite the heavy moisture and late spring snow showers that hampered corn planting this year, Lowrie is relieved to have all 12 colors of corn for the Corn Palace planted and on pace to be harvested.
“I would say the corn is about two weeks later than where it was last year, but it’s beginning to tassel now,” Lowrie said. “There’s been a learning curve to this all, but it’s been fun."
Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt was recently asked about the status of the corn that will make up the Corn Palace murals during the July 15 City Council meeting. Schmidt informed the council of Lowrie’s decision to plant 45 acres of corn on a drain tile field has added a sigh of relief in the midst of one of the worst farming seasons the area has experienced.
It’s one of several reasons Schmidt strongly supported choosing Lowrie as the new Corn Palace farmer in 2018.
Schmidt said choosing the Corn Palace farmer is done through a bidding process, in which the Corn Palace Entertainment Board vets the applicants and bidders. Of the bidders, it was Lowrie’s communication skills paired with his farming experience that helped him stand out from the rest. Lowrie, who is being paid $50,000 to grow the corn this year, replaced longtime Corn Palace farmer Wade Strand.
“He is an outstanding communicator, and that was a big reason why he stood out to me in the bidding process,” Schmidt said of Lowrie. “We need strong communication with how the Corn Palace’s corn is looking. It’s common I will get a text message with a picture of where the rye and corn are at in the growing process.”
Lowrie plants the corn that will soon cover the 43,510-square-foot building in the heart of Mitchell on a field roughly 10 miles west of the city. He credits his decision to plant the corn on a well-drained field for making all the difference in successfully planting the grains for this year’s mural theme.
“It really helps, and I don’t think we would have gotten the corn planted without it,” Lowrie said.
Lowrie has built enough confidence in his agriculture skills to take on the role of providing the corn that will be transformed into large murals, overlooking Mitchell’s Main Street. Lowrie said he is still acclimating to a unique style of farming needed to provide the roughly 350,000 ears of corn that are nailed to the Corn Palace each year in the fall. With 12 color variations of corn that are used to complete the intricate mural designs, Lowrie is responsible to grow, harvest and transport all of the corn that speckles the South Dakota landmark.
The process of growing colored variations of corn was a learning experience for Lowrie. He plants 12 rows of seed corn, each producing the ears of colored corn intended. To successfully produce the color variations, Lowrie said avoiding cross pollination is the most crucial aspect.
“We plant the separate corn seeds about two to three weeks apart, so they don’t pollinate at the same time,” Lowrie said. “It’s been an interesting process to learn.”
In addition to producing 12 colors of corn, Lowrie also provides the rye. He planted roughly six acres of rye this year, which he will then pick and bundle before hauling it to downtown Mitchell.
Although Lowrie had adequate farming equipment to take on the task of producing the corn, he lacked a rye bundle machine. A month after being chosen by the city as the Corn Palace farmer, Lowrie began his search for a rye bundle machine. After finding a piece of bundle equipment online, Lowrie trekked east to Minnesota where he purchased the bundle machine that dates back to the 1920s.
“It’s very old, but it’s functioning great for me so far,” Lowrie said.
In between farming his own crops, Lowrie has been able to handle the workload that comes with being the Corn Palace farmer. He said his dad’s help through it all has been a vital component to making it all possible.
While taking on the role as the Corn Palace farmer has added more challenges for Lowrie, seeing the landmark he grew up admiring decorated in the corn he grew and harvested has given the local farmer a new sense of pride.
“It’s neat to see the corn I grew hanging on the Corn Palace,” Lowrie said. “I think some people forget to stop and think about how much work it takes to get that corn on the Corn Palace. I know I used to forget, but that’s all changed now.”