Herman Warsaw moved onto his McLean County, Saybrook, Ill., farm in 1941. He bought it from a lender who had repossessed it from the previous owner who couldn’t make it pay. It had an established corn yield record of 38 Bu/A. He thought it was a bargain when he bought it, but as he set out to produce corn on it, he soon realized that making it more productive was going to be a challenge. In hindsight, he was obviously up for the challenge.
He set a world record corn yield of 338 Bu/A in 1975. In 1985 he broke that record with 370 Bu/A, a world record yield that stood for many years before Francis Childs came along. In fact, between 1975 and 1989 Warsaw had five yields of over 300 Bu/A, and a 15-year average of 274 Bu/A.
Did it pay? Warsaw’s variable costs were $1.25 per bushel and his total cost including land cost were $1.60/Bushel. He sold his 1985 crop for $3.09/Bu for a profit of $550.00 per acre.
Thankfully, people recognized the importance of what Warsaw was doing back in the ’70s and ’80s and began to come calling, to learn all that they could from the modest, “down to earth” (pun intended) corn yield champion. While I never had the pleasure of meeting Warsaw (1910-1989), I did have the opportunity to work with Childs (1939-2008) who still holds the dryland world record yield set in 2002 of 442.14 Bu/A. They had a number of things in common in both their personality and approach to high yield corn. Fred Below Jr., of the University of Illinois, has observed three defining characteristics:
#1) They both were “skillful cultivators” that pushed their plant populations to a higher level. Herman planted on 28-inch rows and produced his 370 Bu/A world record yield on a 37,000 plant population. Francis Childs produced his 442.14 Bu/A yield on 20-inch rows at 40,000+ planting population.
#2) They both focused on soil improvement that provided deep soil with improved organic matter, CEC and a neutral pH (6.8-7.0) and incorporated a high level of fertility and crop residue. Both were able to significantly improve water holding capacity and soil microbial activity to allow for the rapid breakdown of crop residue. Both were producing continuous corn for decades.
#3) They pursued high yields, well beyond what others thought were possible. Childs was fond of saying that the most important thing to put in your field to increase your yields was “your shadow.” He and Warsaw were both tireless observers of their soil and condition of their crop.
What Herman Warsaw was able to accomplish is even more significant when you understand that he was producing over 300 Bu/A corn yields using the best genetics available in 1975 and 1985. This was a time when universities were focused on soil and fertility research primarily, exactly the type of things that allowed Warsaw and later Childs move up the corn yield ladder.
We are fortunate that thanks to a grant from The International Minerals and Chemical Corporate working with the MEYP (Maximum Economic Yield Program) and the University of Illinois, interviews and videos were captured that are available to view at www.300BushelCorn.info. Warsaw, like every Yield Champion I’ve ever met, was glad to share what helped them achieve greater yields while being stewards of the soil with which we are blessed.
If you have ever heard agronomist Cory Oberlander of Agveris, Inc. speak on soil fertility and high yield components you’ve heard him say that there have been two defining dates that have impacted crop production and our agricultural economy dramatically… 1996 and 2006.
In 1996 it was the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans. From that time on, most of the university research shifted to genetics and fertility was ignored by many. In fact, from 1992 on, North Dakota State University was using the same fertility recommendations until updated in 2015 with no change even though average corn yields have more than doubled. Corn producers today have some amazing genetics to work with that have significantly increased yield potential. But, to make these genetics perform requires soil health and high fertility, at the right time to create optimum yields and the highest economic returns. What happened in 2006?
Warsaw’s message is more significant today for corn producers than ever. That message:
We can substantially increase yields and profits in crop production by paying attention to details and eliminating yield limiting factors… while at the same time being responsible stewards of our soil and water resources.