Corn and its Early Fathers (1956)
Henry Agard Wallace and William L. Brown

Krug Corn

Most of the Reid corn of Iowa traces back to the corn that P. G. Holden brought to Iowa when he came to work for Iowa State College at Ames in 1902. The most prominent strains of Iowa Reid seemed a little earlier-ripening than those used in Illinois and Indiana and served as a source of good early inbreds.

The one man to develop a genuinely improved strain of Reid corn was George Krug, of Woodford County in central Illinois. this quiet, retiring farmer, who kept pretty much to himself, combined a Nebraska strain of Reid corn with Iowa Gold Mine to make the highest-yielding strain of old-fashioned, nonhybrid yellow corn ever found in the Corn Belt. M. L. Mosher, a county agent who discovered both George Krug and Krug corn in 1921, describes him as a large, unassuming man who got along well with everyone and never entered his corn in the shows. Mosher writes that the Krug corn, as brought into the county agent's office by Krug himself, was very uneven as to ear and kernel. The sample was so unprepossessing that Mosher thought there must be some mistake. Surely, no farmer would send in seed corn that was so variable. And yet this seed, when planted, was the best in yield of one hundred twenty sorts on a three-year average. It actually yielded ten bushels an acre better than the most touted show strain of Reid.

* It is interesting to note that after selecting for uniformity and for a showier ear, Hershey admitted he had "spoiled Surecropper and cut off about 10 to 15 bushels per acre at least."

How had this uneducated farmer done it? What did he know that the college authorities did not know? Mosher found part of the answer when he shelled one hundred bushels of Krug corn an ear at a time and ran the kernels of each ear over a belt in a bright light. The kernels were lustrous, with no white starch showing. They were plump and well-filled at the tip, where the kernel joined the cob. Mosher found that nearly every ear of Krug corn was heavy for its size. Krug himself said he picked his ears only from good stalks and that he always shelled off a few kernels from each ear to see that the backs of the kernels had an oily appearance clear down to the cob. Oily kernels and ears heavy for their size meant everything to Krug. Before 1921 he cared nothing for uniformity, but, in the main, his corn at that time was a moderately rough eighteen-row type with great variation all the way from the smooth, rather flinty Nebraska strain of Reid to the deep-kerneled, rough Gold Mine. The mixing, combined with emphasis on kernel type, gave Krug corn its preeminence in the three-year-yield test. Krug, as soon as he had won the three-year-yield test, began, unfortunately, to pick for a uniform type known as the Illinois utility corn-show standard.* This process overemphasized the flintiness and reduced the yield by introducing uniformity where Krug had formerly unconsciously practiced diversity. Fortunately, in 1923 or 1924, Lester Pfister, one of the original hybrid corn producers, began inbreeding Krug, and saved some of its high-yield factors. It took the unique combination of Mosher, Krug, and Pfister, working in Woodford County, Illinois, to salvage the unusual qualities of the corn that had been produced by crossing in the first two decdes of the twentieth century. Krug did not have even a glimmer of the insight of John Lorain or the artistic sensibility of James Reid. He was relatively unlettered, yet in some intuitive way he managed to perfect, out of a cross, what was probably the highest-yielding of the open-pollinated corns of the Corn Belt during the period just before the hybrid corns began to take over.

Although Krug had little formal education, he was, it seems, a man of considerable intellect. And he loved the soil, the farm, and all that went with it. His grandfather Michael Krug, a German immigrant, came to the United States in 1850, settled in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and worked in the textile mills there. Six years later he migrated west to Panola Township, Illinois. There he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. He apparently had no interest in farming, but his son, George King's father, acquired eighty acres of land near Panola. There George Krug was born. Partly because his brother had little interest in the farm, George fell heir to the eighty acres and later bought another eighty. While he was actively working with corn, he farmed no more than one hundred acres; he never had more than forty acres in corn. His father, it seems, grew nothing but corn and oats — forty acres of each. When George began to manage the farm, he realized the need for better soil practices and accordingly reduced his oat acreage to make room for some grasses and legumes. To supplement his income, Krug operated a threshing machine; he acquired a considerable reputation in the community as an expert thresherman. He was so modest and retiring a man that, after years of living and working with his neighbors he continued to address them by their surnames, prefixing the title mister. Yet he was very close to his family and relatives and was constantly aware of their needs and solicitous for their well-being. Though he may have lacked certain social graces and artistic ability, he appreciated these qualities in others. He used his hard-earned money to buy a piano for his son when the boy showed evidence of musical ability.

Krug was a lifelong Democrat despite the fact he was never known to discuss politics. Though he came from Lutheran ancestry, he was a member of the Evangelical Reformed Church. He served on the Church Council for four years, attended church regularly and saw to it that his children were participating members of the Sunday School. Though somewhat inarticulate on the subject, Krug evidently had a real interest in progressive agriculture. He was a charter member of the Woodford County Farm Bureau, was first among local farmers to join a farm-accounting group, and frequently attended field days at the University Experiment Station.

George Krug's father grew a very rough kind of corn, probably a strain of Reid. George objected to it primarily because it hurt his hands when it was being husked. During the years in which he was trying to develop an improved strain, at harvest time he always selected ears from good plants, heavy for their size. These he kept temporarily on a platform in his corncrib; later he stored them in baskets in the attic of his house. According to Mrs. Krug, these "baskets of precious corn" during the winter months were brought down one at a time to the kitchen. There George would sort them over ear by ear until his final-choice samples were selected for next season's planting.

When the results of Mosher's Woodford County yield test demonstrated the high-yielding capacity of Krug corn, George was inwardly worried for fear his newly acquired title of "Corn King" could, through jealousy, cause him to lose some of his friends. Even after his corn became widely known, he still preferred to remain in the background and, while considerable demand arose for his seed, he neither attempted nor desired to gain financially from its success.