Harold Reetz: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Having just retired from 28 years with the Potash & Phosphate Institute (PPI) and the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), preceded by 12 years at Purdue University, I have been reflecting on what we have accomplished in the past 40 years. We have made progress yet have been disappointed by unmet goals.

As I completed my first crop season as Extension corn production specialist at Purdue (1975), I was feeling pretty good about producing my first corn yield over 200 bushels per acre (bu/A). Then I learned about a Saybrook, IL, farmer named Herman Warsaw and his world record yield of 338 bu/A. That was a real wake-up call.

I realized that in order to build a credible corn production program, I needed to learn how to grow higher yields. Teaming up with Purdue colleagues, and particularly with Werner Nelson, then vice president of PPI, we started studying Warsaw’s program along with other high yield producers.

When I joined the PPI staff a few years later, I was able to work with Warsaw more closely, along with University of Illinois researchers Bob Lambert, Dr. Fred Welsh, and Dick Hageman to try to learn what was unique about Warsaw’s system. I had the pleasure of riding the combine with Herman in 1985 as he harvested a new world-record corn yield of 370 bu/A. Now, 25 years later, contest yields more than 300 bu/A are common, and many central Illinois farmers routinely produce field over 200 bu/A.

How did this progress come about? Genetic improvement has had a major impact. Recently, insect resistance and more aggressive root systems have helped improve water and nutrient use efficiency. Coupled with higher populations and general sharpening of management, farmers have learned how to take advantage of the improved genetic potential.

Lagging Soybeans

Progress with soybean yield has not been as good over the past 40 years. But have we really tried as hard? Midwest farmers tend to put corn first; soybeans get the leftovers — in nutrition, in management, in priority for improvement. That has changed in some cases, and some good progress is being made. Fortunately the best growing conditions and management for corn work pretty well for soybeans. But the future demands for improving production of both crops will require us to fine-tune the management systems and focus more on the unique requirements of each crop. With the diversity being incorporated with genetic engineering, we will likely even make additional adjustments to the management system to fit individual varieties/hybrids.

The margin for improvement in soybeans appears to be greater than in corn, based on the differential between record yields and average ones. Keeping the majority of flowers on the plant to develop grain is a challenge.

Realizing the potential yield of new genotypes will require sharpening other management factors. Best yields require systematic elimination of yield-limiting factors. Nutrients must be available in the right form and the right amount at all times … and the right amount varies throughout the season. Plant spacing — both row width and spacing within the row — becomes more critical in higher yielding systems. Elimination of stress and competition from diseases, insects, weeds, and other pests becomes more critical. Amount and timing of water availability have much more impact on high yield systems, as does the requirement for adequate drainage.

High yield management also will show more response to site-specific precision farming technology, as it helps to fine-tune the management to deal with the within-field variability in soils, topography, and other chemical and physical factors.

A correlated need for all of this will be the need for more agronomic information and advisers to deliver and interpret it. Future farmers need more help keeping up with the details. There is a serious concern — are we are training enough new agronomists to fill that need? And the continuing education to keep these advisers up to date will be another challenge. On-farm research will benefit every farm to help adjust management practices to best fit the local situation. More detailed databases for the farm built from accumulated years of records also become a more valuable resource.

I look back on the last 40 years of progress with pride in what we have accomplished, but look ahead to even greater challenges. I have faith that we have the determination to work to meet these challenges head-on. But I am concerned that we must maintain the research, teaching, and Extension systems in universities and industry to provide the science technology and the human resources that are required. I look forward to continuing to help make it happen.

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories

Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
AGCO AgControl system
Precision AgPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
November 28, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Corn Field
FertilizerBridging Crop Nutrition Science And Technology
September 7, 2016
The future seemed to draw nearer for the 1,600-plus attendees of the co-located InfoAg and International Precision Agriculture conferences in St. Read More
Trending Articles
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMissouri Governor Meets With Bayer CEO To Discuss Monsanto Merger
November 21, 2016
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon visited Bayer AG global headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 18 to discuss the proposed Bayer-Monsanto Read More
STS16 2017
SprayersHagie Manufacturing Releases 2017 STS16 Sprayer To Market
November 16, 2016
Hagie Manufacturing LLC’s largest full season applicator is now available with enhancements for the 2017 model year. Hagie is officially Read More
Wilco
CropLife 100Valley Agronomics, Wilco-Winfield To Form New Agronomy Joint Venture
November 11, 2016
Valley Agronomics LLC, headquartered in Rupert, ID, is a joint venture between Valley Wide Cooperative and Winfield Solutions, LLC. Wilco-Winfield, Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute Issues Statement On The U.S. Elections
November 10, 2016
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn has issued the following statement on the results of the 2016 elections: “TFI Read More
Latest News
Acceleron B-300 seed coating
Crop InputsThe BioAg Alliance Launches New Yield-Boosting Microbia…
December 5, 2016
As part of their commitment to develop and commercialize innovative microbial solutions for farmers through The BioAg Alliance, Monsanto Co. Read More
ManagementCorn and soy planting update; Takeaways from Climate Co…
December 2, 2016
AgriBusiness Global Editor Dave Frabotta Joins Paul Schrimpf for a discussion of global corn and soybean planting trends, and a Read More
Radish cover crop taproot
Crop InputsSoil Health Institute, Datu Research Receive Grant To E…
December 1, 2016
The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Datu Research has announced a $626,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to quantify Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
ManagementAg Industry Comes Together To Address Climate Change
December 1, 2016
Addressing climate change — and more specifically, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture — can only be achieved through collective Read More
Young soybean field
HerbicidesLiquid Formulation Valor EZ Herbicide Available For 201…
December 1, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has released Valor EZ; a liquid formulation of the company’s leading herbicide, Valor. Named Valor EZ Herbicide Read More
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
ManagementThe Value Of Cooperatives In Modern Agriculture
December 1, 2016
Editor’s Note: Jaxon Mullinnix of  Lone Tree, IA, was recently named the Iowa state winner of the 2017 GROWMARK essay Read More
AGCO Operator of the Year Tony Kornder
SprayersAGCO Names Tony Kornder Operator Of The Year
December 1, 2016
AGCO Corp. names Tony Kornder with Genesis Growing Solutions in Le Sueur, MN, the 11th annual Operator of the Year. Read More
Chris Henney OABA
ManagementOABA Industry Conference To Provide Outlook For Future …
November 29, 2016
The upcoming Ohio AgriBusiness Association Industry Conference is packed with widely-respected speakers and industry professionals, sharing their expertise on a Read More
Corn
InsecticidesMajor Review Finds Neonic Poses Low Risk To Aquatic Inv…
November 28, 2016
A major new ecotoxicological review and risk assessment has been published in the peer-reviewed literature and concluded that registered crop Read More
EquipmentGSI Details New Grain Drying Efficiency System for Coop…
November 28, 2016
Grain elevators and ag co-ops are always looking for ways to increase their energy efficiency to help improve profitability. For Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
AGCO AgControl system
Precision AgPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
November 28, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
ARA
Eric SfiligojTaking The Industry’s Pulse At ARA
November 28, 2016
When most of you read this particular column, many of the industry’s key folks will probably be spending at least Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls …
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
FertilizerNutrient Management, Conservation Among Topics Covered …
November 23, 2016
Certified crop advisers, consultants, farmers, agribusiness professionals and students will learn more about nutrient management, soil and water conservation, pest Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMissouri Governor Meets With Bayer CEO To Discuss Monsa…
November 21, 2016
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon visited Bayer AG global headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 18 to discuss the proposed Bayer-Monsanto Read More
Arysta LifeScience
Crop InputsArysta LifeScience Forms Alliance With Beem Biologics
November 21, 2016
As part of its recently announced strategy to become a leader in high-value, high-growth specialty market segments in the crop Read More