Seed Corn vs Commercial Corn

I’m going to do my best to explain the main differences between seed corn and commercial corn. Both of which are different than sweet corn, which we all love to eat off the ear with lots of butter and salt.

Commercial corn is the majority of what you will see planted across Iowa. It is used in everything from corn flakes, plastics, syrups, and ethanol. What a versatile plant! Commercial corn is of course planted, sprayed, and then harvested. There are not a whole lot of extra steps that are taken. You may do side dressing to put more fertilizer right next to the plant’s base to give it an extra boost. We do strip tillage in the fall as well to prepare the ground for planting the following spring. Commercial corn is the less time consuming of the two.

Image courtesy of University of Illinois.

Seed corn requires much more planning, steps throughout the growth season, and special harvesting techniques. Seed corn has a ‘male’ and ‘female’ which makes planting a slower, deliberate task. They must have enough isolation from other corn varieties so they don’t cross pollinate. Then plant the end rows with only male seeds, and finally plant the majority of the field with 1 male row then 4 female rows then 1 male etc. Only the female plants are harvested, which is what will be planted by many farmers next season as commercial corn. (I guess I gave away the full circle moment a little early.) There are many extra steps between planting and harvest as compared to commercial corn. Flaming is done to only the male plants when it’s about 6 inches tall and stunts roughly half of the field’s growth for 5 days. This ensures that the pollination period is extended because the male plants that were stunted pollinate later than the others. Then the lovely Iowa pastime of detasseling starts in July. First a cutting machine goes through to cut the tops off the female plants (only the males get to keep their tassels – insert your own joke here). Then the detasseling machine goes through. Josh runs one of these and it’s really a sight to see, I’ll probably have to do a post just about that in July. The teenagers get to earn their summer money at this point by pulling what was missed. Our next step is male destroy; since only the females are harvested the males must be leveled (insert another joke here).  Finally we get to harvest where seed corn is picked on the ear instead of running through the combine. We do not pick our seed corn ourselves, but it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders when you see them come in and harvest what you’ve devoted so much time and resources to all year.

There is of course a ton of science that goes into all these different processes for each type. Like I said this is my fairly simple explanation of the differences.  I hope you learned a little more about the corn that you possibly pulled the tassels from when you were younger. Confession: I had not pulled a single tassel until Josh and I were having a date night in the detasseling machine and I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

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Until next time!


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