When I received the advance program for the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association’s annual meeting and saw a three-hour session scheduled on corn production, with not even a break, I thought, No way!

A bunch of guys who’re continually on the go are gonna sit for three straight hours (!) listening to somebody drone on about the ABCs of growing corn, after having spent all morning in sessions? Yeah, sure.

Besides which, the final spot on any afternoon program is a speaker’s purgatory — half or more of the attendees have headed for the bar or the golf course and most of those remaining in the session are snoozing or fiddling with Blackberrys or iPhones.

Even worse is the last afternoon spot on the final day of a conference (as this was), because everybody’s chomping at the bit to hit the road for home.

Miracle of miracles: Sit they did for the full three hours, taking notes, peppering the speaker with questions, and after a short break, came back for an extra 30 minutes of wrap-up.

“I think it just shows how eager we are to learn all we can about this crop,” said Winston Earnhart, veteran consultant at Tunica, Miss. “Most of us have been so immersed in cotton and soybeans for such a long time, that this huge switch to corn has challenged us to look everywhere we can for answers.”

That the audience hung in there even past the scheduled stopping point (and likely would’ve stayed longer) is also testimony to (1) the knowledge and (2) communication skills of the speaker. It was evident from the get-go that here was somebody who lives and breathes corn, with years of experience digging into what makes a corn plant tick, what makes it unhappy, and what can be done to correct the situation, and who could share that knowledge with authority and humor.

John McGillicuddy is an independent agronomist at Iowa City, Iowa, with farmer clients in several states. His education was in chemistry, but his impressive résumé includes more than 20 years in hybrid/fertility research, field agronomy, technical support, and weed science, including stints with seed companies and the largest crop insurance company in the U.S., evaluating agronomic techniques to reduce risk in cropping systems, and as a consultant/trainer for numerous ag companies and organizations.

He comes across as sort of The Corn Detective — an agronomic Sherlock Holmes who is called in when a farmer who’s expecting 200-bushels or more only gets 180 and wants to know where he failed.

With a brain full of scientific and observational clues amassed over decades of digging through the myriad of factors that can influence a corn plant’s growth and production cycle, McGillicuddy looks for answers as to where things went awry.

If you grow corn and ever have a chance to attend one of his sessions, it’ll be three hours (or more!) well spent.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com