Corn King cleared of cheating rumor

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(Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted with permission. It first appeared May 6 in the Waterloo Courier.)

MANCHESTER, Iowa – The National Corn Growers Association says it was a “procedural error” that disqualified corn-yield champ Francis Childs last year from its annual yield contest.

Citing increasing media pressure, the association decided to break one of its rules and explain why it didn’t allow the Manchester farmer to win his sixth title in a row and seventh overall.

Divorce controversy. The controversy surfaced recently when Childs’ ex-wife, Lois, claimed during their December divorce trial that Francis cheated.

Francis, known as the Corn King of Iowa, denied the accusation.

The disqualification – along with Lois’ accusations – fueled the fire among doubters that Childs’ championship yields may have been achieved fraudulently.

442-bushel record. Childs set the world record in 2002 for non-irrigated production at 442 bushels per acre. Last year’s Iowa crop averaged 157 bushels per acre.

Initially, the corn growers association wouldn’t explain its actions, but the organization is now backing Childs’ earlier statements that contest officials were at fault.

“In the case of Francis Childs’ entry, there was confusion over which wagons were inspected. The wagons checked were not the same wagons used to off-load the combine,” association CEO Rick Tolman said in a prepared statement.

Contest corn yields are determined by weight.

He said, she said. Childs said he thought the four wagons he put contest corn in had been checked. They were not.

His ex-wife contended in court, however, that Childs’ put corn in the wagons before they were checked. She said he “compromised his yield … that he rigged it.”

Lois Childs, 51, declined to comment when contacted for this article.

What happened. Tolman said it was supervisor error, not Childs’ fault.

Three corn growers officials inspected the wagons and combine and watched as Childs harvested his contest entry.

“Francis thought four wagons had been checked and the supervisors were aware that only two had been inspected,” he continued in the statement. “When they cross-checked their information, the discrepancy was discovered, thereby causing the contest entry to become invalid.

“We hope this puts an end to the misinformed rumors and speculation surrounding Francis Childs and the NCGA National Corn Yield Contest.”

Farmer to farmer. Arlington farmer Tim Burrack was one of the contest officials at Childs’ farm last year and had heard the rumors.

“In a way, I went down to try (prove he cheats). It’s all speculation, you can’t prove it,” Burrack said. “I went through the combines, wagons … It was hard for me to believe it too.

“(Childs) is a tremendous crop scout. He’s just very good at it,” Burrack said.

Burrack, a former corn growers board member, said his best yield was 260 bushels per acre.

High stakes. The disqualification cost Childs a lucrative sponsorship and speaking contract with Pioneer Hi-Bred International. In 2003, the agreement was worth $32,000.

Pioneer officials said they didn’t renew the contract because Childs didn’t win, though Pioneer didn’t offer a similar deal to the 2003 winner.

Childs also receives free machinery and seed from companies and lectures on how to grow corn.

Lots of skeptics. For years, farmers and agronomy experts have been skeptical of Childs’ accomplishments.

Many don’t believe the 64-year-old farmer could win honestly for so many years by such wide margins. Childs beat the 2002 runner-up by 160 bushels per acre.

Vindicated. Childs said he’s happy the corn growers issued the statement, which he considers vindication.

He hopes the statement puts doubts to rest, though he acknowledges it probably won’t happen.

Anytime someone is on the top, he said there will always be people who want to knock you off.

“I expect it,” Childs said. “This (statement) should cover it.”

Ready for 2004. He recently planted this year’s 100-acre contest plot.

High yields are due to more than 40 years of conditioning soil and to trial and error, Childs said. He uses a system of deep tillage, intense fertilization, high seed populations and narrow corn rows to get high yields.

“Guys say they try (my methods), but you got to keep at it year after year after year, Childs said.

University of Wisconsin corn specialist Joe Lauer said with today’s genetics, it’s theoretically possible to have 600 bushels per acre – if conditions are perfect.

Childs claimed two years ago he produced 577.

Researchers at the Iowa State University Extension research farm near Nashua conducted trials using many, but not all, of Childs’ methods. The best the researchers could produce is yields in the low- to mid-200s.

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