He was the rock star of corn.
While Elvis and others were turning the music world topsy-turvy in the 1950s, Lamar Ratliff, a young 4-H member in rural Prentiss County, Miss., was shaking up the world of corn.
Unlike the music stars, he got no gold records, earned no fortune for it — but he did become famous. And more than a half-century later he has a fading 4-H scrapbook, plump with letters, photos, and newspaper clippings attesting to his accomplishments, which included:
• A state record corn yield of 179 bushels in 1950 for his first 4-H project, when he was just 10-1/2 years old. He’d just joined 4-H that year at Wheeler School and decided on corn as his project.
In an article he wrote for a publication about his feat, Lamar explained: “I broke it deep, rowed it up in 28-inch rows, subsoiled, and used 30 wagonloads of barnyard manure, 1,200 pounds of Vigoro fertilizer, 1,000 pounds of soda, and planted Dixie 17, thinned to 12 inches, cultivated once.”
“It was kinda like one big corn garden,” is his recall of the requisite one-acre plot. “I made the crop with our eight-year-old mule, Dolly. The older boys, whose fathers had tractors, made fun of me, called me Dolly. They said it was stupid to try to grow corn on less than 40-inch rows.
“My daddy was a pea patch farmer, grew some vegetables, a little cotton, and had a small country store. He only grew a small amount of corn to feed our two mules. Farmers who grew corn in that era were overjoyed with 25 bushels, and that was on good bottom land. They didn’t have the good varieties and good fertilizers that came later.
“My mother worked for shirt factory wages to buy the fertilizer I needed for that corn crop, and she believed in me every step of the way. She’s now near 100 and last fall was the north Mississippi dominoes champion in a nursing home competition.”
Lamar’s mentor, the late Prentiss County Extension agent W. T. Smith, “became my second daddy; he encouraged me to excel; his wife was my English teacher.”