SW Iowa test plot features three centuries of seed corn

SW Iowa test plot features three centuries of seed corn

Photo by Anna Hastert

Steve Kenkel check plants a test plot each year. Check planting requires a farmer to plant north to south then east to west, creating a checkerboard pattern in the field.

The plot features three centuries of corn. The first section includes Reids Yellow Dent, an open pollinated seed variety. This was a highly sought-after variety in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It won many state and national competitions for its ear size.

“It’s real showy,” Kenkel said. “The problem is – it has barren stocks if it has been stressed. You can’t plant populations greater than 10,000 or 12,000. If you were to plant 30,000 like we do on our farms today, you would have all barren stocks. Standability is terrible, it falls over. It’s too tall – the plant is 12 to 14 feet tall. Ear placement is between five to seven feet tall, so above your head. When the ears mature, they fall over.”

The section to the right, features U.S. 13, one of the first double-crossed, hybrid corn varieties. U.S. 13, a byproduct of Reids Yellow Dent, had been the top hybrid seed corn variety for 25 years.

“It’ll put an ear on every stock with populations under 20,000 to 25,000. It has great standability, but the height is still too tall. The placement of ears is also still too tall compared to today’s,” Kenkel said.

The end of the plot includes Dekalb DKC 60-90 Triple stack variety. Kenkel adds this variety solely because he plants the variety in his fields.

“It’s a 110-day variety; the others are 120-day varieties,” Kenkel said. “We brought the plant height down, it’s maybe eight-foot tall. The ear height is also down to three to four feet, it’s perfect. U.S. 13 would rarely put two ears on a stock at 10,000. About 60% of my Triple Stock has two ears on it. If you have a variety that’s a flex ear, you’ll get better results.”

In 2008, Kenkel isolated his test plot. He hand-picked each section to maximize yields. Kenkel check planted each section, harvested the crop and then calculated yields and profits.

“Reids Yellow Dent cost $4/bag back in its day. U.S. 13 cost $12/bag and the Triple Stack, planted back in 2008, cost $242. My yield for the open-pollinated Reids Yellow Dent was 74 bushels. U.S. 13 was 92 bushels and Dekalb Triple Stack was 136 bushels. With the open pollinated corn, I lost $50/acre even with the cheap seed. With U.S. 13, I made $33/acre and Dekalb Triple Stack, I made $150/acre,” Kenkel said.

Kenkel shared his story with me at the fifth Hybrid Corn Pioneers Expo. He hopes to build a discovery center one day to educate more people about the rich history of hybrid corn.

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