The Evolution of Corn Hybrids

The Evolution of Corn Hybrids

Photo by Anna Hastert

Before hybrid corn, farmers planted open pollinated corn by check planting.

“Up until the mid to late-70s, farmers would have to take a field marker to mark the field. They would travel north and south to put a line in the dirt. When done, they would travel east and west, making a checkerboard square. The next day, they would go over the lines they made with a drop planter. One person would operate the two horses and one person would operate the drop. When they got to the cross section, they would pull a lever and it would drop the seed. They’d go forty inches, pull the lever and drop the seed,” Kenkel said.

In the 1870s, farmers gained access to check wire. Farmers would unroll row wire, which would have buttons every 40 inches. The wire would feed into the planter lever and when a button hit the lever it would drop seed. Farmers used this planting method for 80 years, up until 1950.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, farmers gained access to the first double-crossed, hybrid corn. Two single-cross hybrids create the double-crossed, hybrid.

The tassels on the female single-cross hybrid are removed, or detasseled, before the plant has a chance to shed pollen. The detasseling process ensures pollen only comes from the male single-cross hybrid plant. The resulting seed produced on the female plant is known as the double-crossed hybrid plant.

This new technology presented many opportunities for farmers and agribusinesses alike.

“It was the number one opportunity,” Kenkel said. “It revolutionized American agriculture. Right after hybrid corn came out, farmers started making money. They doubled yields overnight, and tripled them if they used fertilizer. Tractors started to come along, then implements and pickers to pull behind tractors. The fertilizer business, chemical business and the agribusiness climate changed.”

Tomorrow, Kenkel will discuss his test plot featuring three centuries of seed corn. The tests plots are located near his Hybrid Corn Pioneers Museum in Earling, Iowa.

 

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