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
Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More
Top 100 Articles
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
corn field
CropLife 100The Andersons’ Humic DG Now Available In Canada
February 13, 2015
The Andersons, Inc. Turf & Specialty Group has announced its Humic DG product is now available to customers in the Canadian turf, agriculture and horticulture markets. Read More
Farmer on tablet
CropLife 100Southern States Co-op: An Inside Look At Our Aerial Imagery Program
February 8, 2015
Now is as good a time as any to explore the basics of what a retail aerial imagery program looks like today. Read More
Latest News
Eric SfiligojCommodity Classic 2015: Playing The Waiting Game
March 2, 2015
There was plenty of future-talk at this year’s event as companies (and growers) are largely in a holding pattern of sorts. Read More
Industry NewsHighway Equipment Appoints New Director Of Business Dev…
March 2, 2015
Cory Venable, who joined Highway Equipment Company (HECO) in 2013 as OEM Account Manager, has been promoted to Director of Business Development. Read More
Prairieland FS employees
Eric SfiligojWorkforce Worries
March 2, 2015
Finding good employees almost always ranks as the No. 1 or No. 2 problem for ag retailers in our annual CropLife 100 survey. Read More
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location I…
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
2,4-D Celebrates 70 Years; GROWMARK Uses Super Bowl Ad To Share Positive Message
Management2,4-D Celebrates 70 Years; GROWMARK Uses Super Bowl Ad …
February 27, 2015
Jim Gray, executive director of the 2,4-D Research Task Force, lays out planned activities to mark the chemistry’s 70th anniversary. Read More
HerbicidesUniversity Of Arkansas Flag The Technology Program Adds…
February 27, 2015
Started in 2010, the Flag the Technology program provides a visual reference for applicators to distinguish between fields planted with different herbicide-tolerant trait technologies. Read More
Luckey Farmers, Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center
Industry NewsLuckey Farmers’ Berkey Branch Certified In 4R Nut…
February 26, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced Luckey Farmers Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center in northwest Ohio has been added to its growing list of nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Crop InputsWinField Unveiling NutriVision Technology, Ascend Dry F…
February 24, 2015
New for 2015 are NutriVision Technology, a unique tool for monitoring in-season plant nutrient availability, and Ascend WSG plant growth regulator, a new dry formulation of Ascend plant growth regulator. Read More
FertilizerNew Formulation Of NutriSphere-N Protects High Volume U…
February 24, 2015
Verdesian Life Sciences is launching NutriSphere-N HVTM, a new polymer formulation of the proven NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager that protects high-volume applications of UAN. Read More
EquipmentIowa Ag Secretary Northey Names Hagie Water Quality Lea…
February 24, 2015
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has named Hagie Mfg. as a recipient of the Secretary’s Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Leader Award. Read More
FungicidesEvito Fungicide Gives Canadian Wheat Growers New Diseas…
February 24, 2015
EVITO fungicide from Arysta LifeScience North America gives Canadian wheat and barley growers a new option for disease control. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Commodity Classic Turns 20
February 23, 2015
Two decades in, this annual gathering of all things agriculture has become a must-see event. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
CropLife Retail Week: On The Road Edition
ManagementCropLife Retail Week: On The Road Edition
February 20, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent trips to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville and the Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes Acquires FLM+ Assets
February 19, 2015
FLM+ will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, Inc., and the company will retain its employee base after closing of the deal, which is scheduled for the second quarter of the year. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnited Suppliers, Stine Seed Form Marketing Alliance
February 19, 2015
The new alliance will greatly expand sales opportunities for Stine Seed with the United Supplier Seed Link Owners. Read More