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Ken's Commentary – 8/7: Fair Weather Ahead

Do you like the feel of 60-degree mornings lately? North central Iowa had the coolest temperatures, down into the high 40s. It indicates that the heat of summer can be broken and Fall will come. We get hints that the rainfall pattern is changing, with the eastern Corn Belt getting one to three inches of rain last weekend while the western areas picked up a half to one full inch. Agronomic-minded folks are translating the moisture into better grain fill on corn and blooming on soybeans. We’ll see if the damage to beans is reversible.

The big event of early August is the state fair; all Midwestern states are holding their fairs at this time of year. I sometimes wonder why we do the fairs at such a hot time, but I assume it’s because school is out and the season makes it unlikely rural folks need to spend time in the fields. It is a good break that some take more seriously than others.

Don’t get caught on the east side of Des Moines when the fair lets the campers onto the grounds! It can be a nightmare, as some people seem to live to the chance to set up their trailer on a tiny spot and stay there for two weeks. It’s all a matter of our definition of “fun”. I like to walk the grounds and to see the exhibits. I like to people watch because there are some strange ones who make it out to the thoroughfares and midway. If people look this strange in Iowa, how strange are they in New York City?

We still do the biggest and the best at the fair. Biggest Boar, Bull and Ram. Giant pumpkin, largest rutabaga. We just love to go jumbo! I look at the replica of Don Ratta’s tallest corn plant from the 1940’s and think how much effort people have put into “agronomic sport” over the years. Here is a commentary on his work in tall corn breeding:

Don Radda of Washington, Iowa, won the WHO National Tall Corn Contest at the Iowa State Fair for many years after starting to compete in 1938 and winning only third. Radda was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Guinness Book of World Records, Encyclopedia Britannica, and newspapers and magazines all over the United States, including the September 11, 1939, issue of LIFE magazine. Radda developed methods of staking, hand watering, fertilizing, and covering the tassel to induce height in his plants. He reportedly gave his first-prize money to second-place winners to encourage the competition to continue after he began winning every year through the 1950s. He also sold 10 kernels of seed from his prize winning stalks for one dollar to other growers.

Someone must have lost that variety because the modern efforts to reproduce such a giant are not much more than half the height.

Such is not the case with pumpkins, as the world record is now 1,818.5 with several growers saying that they can grow a one ton lobe, if given the right weather conditions. It is not a lot different than high yield corn or soybeans as the need is for breeding, fertility, and care.

See you at the fair!