Francis R. Childs was born on Aug. 30, 1939, in Delaware County, Iowa. His father, Ross, entered crop-growing contests, and Francis followed suit when he took over the family farm in 1966. The next year, he won the Iowa Master’s corn yield contest. He did not win it again for 20 years, attributing the dry spell to his own “unwillingness to innovate.” Francis Childs died 11 years ago, on Jan. 9, 2008 at age 68, but his world record dryland corn yield of 442.14 Bu/A still stands, while being eclipsed by the more recent irrigated yields of Randy Dowdy’s 521.39 Bu/A set in 2016 and the current record Dave Hula set in 2017 of 542.27 Bu/A.
Over the years, Francis won the Iowa corn yield competition 18 times and the NCGA competition at the state and national level on a regular basis. I first came in contact with Francis in 2000 when I heard him give a presentation to a group of farmers and fertilizer dealers in Nebraska. At that time he held the world record of 394 Bu/Acre and shared openly the things that he had done to make that happen. But, he had what I call the “gift of disatisfaction” and was always open to new ideas and was always looking for something innovative to try in his fields. In fact, one of the notes I have from a presentation by Francis quotes him as saying, “If growers are open-minded enough to become more technologically savvy, to do additional research, and to try new products, they’ll find there is always room for improvement and more money to be made.”
Francis took his own advice in 2001 and 2002 making, not just one or two specific changes to his corn production system, but several, hoping to push his corn to the next level. They included:
Going to 20-inch row spacing.
Deep tillage of his fields, as recommended by Ray Rawson, the “Father of Zone Tillage.”
Utilizing a seed treatment designed to enhance germination and uniform emergence.
Placing an in-furrow, pop-up, food-grade fertilizer with his seed that included N-P-K and Zinc, for the very first time.
Adding a seed-safe sulfer in-furrow at 1-quart per acre.
Adding Boron at a half pint in a 2x2 band with his liquid nitrogen.
Adding a DCD (dicyandiamide) stabilizer to his liquid nitrogen at 1-quart per acre
With the first round of changes, he achieved a world record corn yield in 2001 of 408.22 Bu/A which was the first recorded, verified yield of over 400 Bu/A in history. With the second round and some fine tuning, and plenty of help from Mother Nature, his yields in 2002 went to 442.14 Bu/A, the current dryland corn yield record, that has stood for 17 years.
I followed Francis and had the privilege of presenting several progams with him over the next several years. I found him a modest, humble and gentle soul who just loved raising corn and seeing how far he could push the yield barriers. While a 10-acre plot is required to qualify for the NCGA yield contest entry, Francis also ran stip plots that he used to try additional variations to his production system. In 2002, Childs told Iowa Farmer Today that he had recorded yields above 500 bushels an acre — the highest was 577 — in strips of less than the 10-acre required for contest entries. He envisioned getting more than 600 bushels from a single acre.
Whenever Francis spoke to fellow corn growers and was asked the question, “What one thing do I need to change to increase my yields?” his answer was always the same. “You have to change your attitude. You have to be willing to change.” I always felt that Francis Childs saw himself the “poster-child” for that advice given the 20-years between his first yield competition win and his second. But, that was a thing of the past after 1986. If Francis Childs were still alive to day, I have no doubt that he’d still be pushing toward that 600 Bu/A right along with Randy Dowdy and Dave Hula. Or, maybe he’d already have achieved that goal and, given today’s improved genetics, been pushing for 700 Bu/A.
Dennis Nun is executive director of Yield Champions and is based in Lincoln, Neb. He can be reached at Dennis@300BushelCorn.info, 402-430-7727 or Yield Champions, Box 6664, Lincoln, NE 68506.