7 Wonders of the Corn Yield World University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences

The Seven Wonders of
High-Yield Corn Production

The need is urgent. A growing population needs more food and fuel. We have to produce it on less land with fewer resources. That means producing more bushels per acre.

Dr. Fred Below

Meet Dr. Fred Below, Professor of Plant Physiology with the University of Illinois. Through his innovative research, he has discovered the seven most important factors to achieve the highest possible corn yields – the elusive 300 bushels/acre.

This site is designed specifically to share the results of Dr. Below’s research.


The Research Behind
the Seven Wonders


300-Bushel Corn Started It All

Fred Below knows that 300-bushel-per-acre corn is possible. While still a student over 25 years ago, he was part of a program that actually raised 300-bushel corn. Below has been trying to replicate the results ever since. While he has come close, he has learned a great deal about the specific factors that affect crop yield. The results are found in the Seven Wonders of the Corn Yield World.

A “high tech” and a “grower standard practice” version of five distinct packages of input categories and practices.

The High Tech Package

The Grower Standard Practice

Fertility 100 lbs P2O5 as MESZ supplies P, S, and Zn Fertility No P or K based on soil test
Nitrogen 100 lb extra N as SUPER U as sidedress to assure available N Nitrogen 180 lbs pre-plant as UAN
Genetics Triple stack (DKC 61-19) with soil insecticide at planting Genetics RR Hybrid (DKC 61-22) with soil insecticide at planting
Population 45,000 plants/ac final stand in 30 inch rows Population  32,000 plants/ac final stand in 30 inch rows
Fungicide  Strobilurin at flowering (Headline or Quilt-Xcel) Fungicide  No Fungicide

Different combinations of these packages are used to distinctly demonstrate yield value over 12 plot areas.

Using an Omission Plot Design allows for the assessment of the relative value of each of the five factors in the high tech system. The value of each factor alone in a traditional system can be assessed, and yield loss as a result of omitting each factor from the package can be measured.

Factors such as drainage, weed control and soil nutrition are crucially important to farming but don’t necessarily directly add yield. Below refers to these as “prerequisites” to the Seven Wonders. If farmers can provide better prerequisites, especially mineral nutrients, they have better chances of achieving high yields.

Prerequisites are:

  • Drainage
  • Pest/weed control
  • Proper soil pH & adequate levels of P and K based on soil tests

There are seven management practices or "wonders" that can result in high yielding corn. Each one interacts with the others to produce an average bushel/acre yield. For example, weather and nitrogen directly affect each other.

Roughly speaking, the higher up on the Wonder list the more control that factor exerts over those Wonders that follow. When combined, all of these factors contribute to big yield gains. In order of importance, they are:

  1. Weather
  2. Nitrogen
  3. Hybrid
  4. Previous Crop
  5. Plant Population
  6. Tillage
  7. Growth Regulators
No. 1
Go to Weather Weather


A Blessing and A Curse

Uncontrollable, unpredictable, unmanageable – weather is the
number one factor affecting crop yield.


Weather can be a blessing or a curse, making life easy or decimating all
your hard work. On its own, weather contributes 70 bushels or more per
acre – 27% value of total yield!

No. 2
Go to Nitrogen Nitrogen
Nitrogen Molecule
Nitrogen Molecule
The (N) Loss Process


The “N” Factor

Used correctly, nitrogen (N) accounts for almost the same value as weather. Combined with weather, N accounts for more than half the crop yield. Weather dictates when N can be applied, its availability and its usability by the crop.

N loss can occur immediately after application through volatilization. Denitrification and leaching can happen once the nitrogen is incorporated. To control nitrogen loss, Dr. Below stabilized his N with AGROTAIN® technology, including SuperU®, in the high tech package. The grower standard package used non-treated UAN.

In addition to nitrogen, it’s essential to have adequate soil fertility which is why Dr. Below used MicroEssentials® SZ from the Mosaic Company in the high tech package. The grower standard practice included no P or K.

No. 3
Go to Hybrid Hybrid

AGROTAIN® is a registered trademark of, and these branded products are manufactured and sold by Koch Agronomic Services, LLC under an exclusive license from The Mosaic Company. MicroEssentials® is a registered trademark of The Mosaic Company.


Hybrid Selection

Unlock Plant Potential

Choosing the right hybrid is one of the most important decisions a farmer makes each year. Dr. Below used triple-stacked DKC61-19 seed from DEKALB® in the high tech package. The grower standard practice included RR Hybrid DKC 61-22 with a soil insecticide at planting. Because of advances in biotechnology with triple stack genetics, there are significant differences in yields and traits in each hybrid. Insect protection traits allow plants to realize their full growth potential by taking up more water and mineral nutrients.


DEKALB® is a registered trademark of DEKALB Genetics Corporation.


Previous Crop

Rotate for Higher Yields

Continuous cropping of corn costs yield. Residue from the previous year’s corn crop will cost more each year corn is grown. But on fields where corn has been rotated with soybeans, corn has better vigor and produces higher yields.


Plant Population

Maximize Your Area

Higher yields come from higher plant populations. Row arrangement is one way to
increase plant population. Using a twin row system with plants arranged in 7-1/2”
staggered rows eliminates plant-to-plant competition and provides a perfect place
for nutrient and water management.

No. 6
Go to Tillage Tillage


Reduce Tillage, Save Soil

While farmers consider tillage a major factor in yield, it only ranks #6 in the value scale. But, it does play an important role in saving soil and retaining valuable moisture and nutrients.


Growth Regulators

Protect and Thrive

Growth regulators include those compounds that have a positive impact on plant growth. Protect against foliar disease with a strobilurin fungicide and you’ll see greener leaves, healthier plants and improved yield performance. Dr. Below used Headline® fungicide from BASF for disease protection. The grower standard practice includes no fungicide application.


Headline® is a registered trademark of BASF.

Is 300 Bushel Corn Possible?

If each of the seven wonders is optimized, farmers can routinely grow 260 bushel per acre corn. To reach the goal of 300 bushels per acre requires better prerequisites, soil fertility most importantly, combined with optimized packages of the seven yield wonders.



Be sure to catch AGROTAIN on RFD-TV Jan. 16 at 7pm CST!
Watch Dr. Below LIVE on RFD-TV on Nov. 14, 2011 at 7pm CST! Call in with your questions!
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